FAMILIES are being forced to ration meals as shrinking wage packets and cuts in benefits take their toll on households, official figures have indicated.
Food sales have suffered their biggest monthly drop in almost two years and support groups say the poorest families – hit by rising unemployment, wage stagnation and welfare cuts – are now skipping dinners to make ends meet.
Smaller food shops were worst hit by the fall last month with some forced to close as snow blanketed parts of Britain, pushing food sales volumes down 1.6 per cent. The figures show the biggest fall in month-on-month food sales since May 2011.
There was also a 2.6 per cent plunge in food sales over the year, with small shops suffering a 14.9 per cent decline, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Keith Dryburgh, policy manager with Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “It’s certainly true that over the last few years we have seen a steady increase in the numbers of people who are struggling just to make ends meet and afford the basics in life – including food.
“It’s not uncommon for such people to tell their CAB adviser that they have cut back on buying food – perhaps skipping meals, or buying less food, or buying cheaper types of food for themselves and their children. And cheaper, of course, tends to mean less nutritious.
“We are very concerned at the implications of this, but the reality is that people feel they have no option. Prices are rising as household incomes fall, so people are caught in a trap where they either have to get into debt or cut back on essentials. This is the reality for many Scottish families today.”
More than 10,000 Scots have used food banks set up by charity the Trussell Trust since April last year, including 2,700 children. The trust is about to open ten new food banks in Scotland, adding to the 13 it already operates. The growing number – and the fact that they are opening up everywhere from cities to small towns and islands – reflects the rising tide of poverty.
Scotland development officer Ewan Gurr said families who were previously able to get by on a “30-hour-a-week wage” are no longer able to do so. He added: “They’re having to cut back on things like heating, lighting and very often we’re finding on food.”
John Dickie, of the Child Poverty Action Group, said many families were having to make “difficult choices between putting food on the table and power bills” as wages stagnated and benefits were cut.
He said: “It doesn’t come as a surprise. There’s no question that families, and particularly the lowest income families, are increasingly struggling to afford anything more than the most basic items – and even the basics.Parents are often going without food themselves in order to make sure their children get a decent meal.
“The poorest families are the hardest hit, as they deal with their wages being squeezed and cuts to things like their child benefit and tax credit.”
Unemployment in Scotland now stands at more than 200,000 – twice the level it was before the downturn in the aftermath of the banking crash five years ago.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Westminster cuts and changes to the welfare system are making life tougher for ordinary families who are already struggling to make ends meet in these tough financial times.
“The Scottish Parliament needs full control over taxation, spending and welfare matters as only then, with the full powers of independence, can we protect the vulnerable.”
Today’s households learning a lesson from the past on waste
A bygone era is making a return to Scottish kitchens as hard-pressed households try to reduce the huge amount of food wasted each year.
An estimated £1 billion worth of food is thrown away in Scotland every year, a fifth the actual amount bought.
Fiona Burrell, principal at Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, said consumers should take inspiration from previous generations.
She said: “I think people are beginning to think they have to be careful. Food is so expensive that you have to really think about it. If you can make the pennies stretch that little bit further by using up food in inventive ways, then do so.
“That slightly bendy carrot in the bottom of the fridge and the onion that looks like it is getting a little bit past it, they can go into soups and if you haven’t got enough vegetables you can always bulk it out with frozen peas. None of it needs to be wasted.”
Ms Burrell said in the past the idea of throwing away food would only have been heard of in the grandest of houses.
She added: “Waste was a sin. Certainly during the war they used anything and everything they could and every last little scrap because food was rationed.”
The modern-day supermarket habits of shoppers do not help reduce food waste, according to Ms Burrell. She said: “I am as guilty as anyone else and will rush into the supermarket at the last minute because I have to get some food for the family before I get home. Possibly we need to try to think a little bit harder.”