The most deprived households in the UK would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to be on the government’s recommended healthy diet.
According to The Food Foundation’s latest annual Broken Plate report, the poorest fifth of the population would need to spend half of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the government’s Eatwell Guide, compared with just 11% for the least deprived fifth.
The report from the charity foundation shows that healthier foods are over twice as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods. For example, more healthy foods increased in price over the past two years by £1.76 per 1,000kcal compared with £0.76 for less healthy foods.
Per category, fruit and vegetables remain the most expensive category by a significant margin, costing on average £11.79 per 1,000kcal compared with food and drink high in fat and/or sugar costing just £5.82 per 1,000kcal.
The situation has deteriorated since last year, when the poorest fifth would have needed to spend 43% of their disposable income. Additionally, 56% of calories consumed by older children and adults are now from ultra-processed foods.
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The data follows the news that the government is delaying promotional restrictions – such as multi-buy offers – on high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) products until October 2025.
Author of the national food strategy independent review, Henry Dimbleby, said: “It is a complete fantasy to suppose that the huge problems of diet-related disease are going to be solved by voluntary measures.
“The commercial incentives for companies to produce food that makes us sick are overwhelming. Just look at the results of the voluntary sugar reformulation programme. Cereals and yogurts are a staple of many families’ diets, and the huge levels of sugar still in so many products is shocking. We need to do better.”
Chair of work and pensions select committee, Rt Hon Sir Stephen Timms MP, said: “To enable every child to fulfil their potential, we need to make a healthy diet affordable. The benefits system is the place to start. Benefit levels don’t seem at present to be benchmarked to essentials, like the cost of a healthy diet, but instead result from a series of arbitrary changes.”
He added that the Work and Pensions Select Committee is currently running an inquiry on the level of benefits, to consider how the levels should be set, noting that one of their ambitions “should surely be to ensure that everyone can afford a healthy diet”.
“Politicians need to look carefully at what the data is telling us about the state of Britain. Serious leadership in tackling this is long overdue,” executive director of the Food Foundation, Anna Taylor, said.
Yet, the average UK shopping basket has become healthier in recent years as the food and drink industry is making changes to support balanced diets.
To help drive change, Sainsbury’s has launched an overnight drive-through which offers shift workers free healthy food while Iceland partnered with fruit and vegetable supplier Del Monte to promote the NHS Healthy Start scheme.