Ethnic minority households will be among the hardest hit by the cost of living crisis
Heating or eating? This is the question that millions of households across Britain must ask themselves as they prepare for a bleak winter. We are being perpetually bombarded with news about the cost-of-living crisis, with our government slow to act as, up and down the country, households are languishing over their finances. Already, Ofgem has raised the price cap on energy so households will be paying almost £5000 in 2023. This news is terrifying for many, as pay packets are already strained due to the 1.25% National Insurance increase and councils upping their tax bills by roughly 4.4%. And if that was not depressing enough, inflation has hit a 40-year high of 10.1%, meaning that everyday purchases such as food are becoming unaffordable.
As a nation, we are going to suffer the biggest fall in living standards since comparable records began, and the struggles being faced by many households are incomprehensible. Yet, it should come as no surprise that this crisis will impact ethnic minorities and vulnerable communities disproportionately. These are the same demographics that have already been unequally hit by the pandemic with higher death rates, higher unemployment rates and higher levels of poverty. In May 2022, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) published an analysis warning that Black, Asian and other minority ethnic households will experience an average increase in the cost of living 1.6 times higher than their white counterparts. The reason being is that individuals on low or insecure incomes are often forced into pricier arrangements such as prepayment meters, higher-cost credit, or being unable to buy everyday goods such as food in bulk.
In particular, food insecurity has become a growing concern in recent years due to the exponential rise in people needing to use food banks. So much so that there are now more food banks in the UK than there are McDonald’s restaurants. Food insecurity is defined as either having smaller meals or skipping them entirely due to being unable to afford or easily access food. According to the Trussell Trust, a record number of food parcels were given out in 2021 (2.5 million), and since 2015 the number of people needing help to access food has increased year on year. Food Foundation has stated that minority ethnic families are already twice as likely to be suffering from food insecurity, with 1 in 5 minority ethnic households currently food insecure compared to 1 in 10 white households.
Food security is incredibly important for it reflects the material deprivation that many must endure in the UK, as well as exacerbating health inequalities. A study carried out by the University of Michigan stated that “the stress of food insecurity and economic hardship is a risk factor on its own….stress can contribute to poor health behaviours such as smoking, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and strokes”.
In the case of children who are food insecure, the physical, mental, and health consequences are detrimental to their education. Hunger and malnutrition affect a child’s ability to concentrate and retain new information which is essential to make progress in their learning. Likewise, the impact of food insecurity on children’s mental health is enormous, with levels of depression, anxiety and behavioural problems rising drastically. By the time they are teenagers, food insecure children are at greater risk of developing psychological problems or having to be suspended. Consequently, these cycles of poor health and poverty continue. After over a decade of austerity, the safety net for many families has been removed. For many, these are uncharted waters that we need to navigate, but there is support out there.
The following resources may be useful to help you through this challenging time:
Kathryn Zacharek (she/her) is a PhD student at the University of Brighton , where she is researching the intersections between race, populism and biopolitics during the COVID-19 pandemic. When she is not researching, she works as an academic support worker as well as acting as a senior editor for the student-led journal Interfere.
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