Parents cut back on food spending and sell possessions due to the cost-of-living crisis

Published on
18 October 2022

More than half (54%) of parents with children aged 18 or under in Great Britain have been forced to cut back on food spending for their family over the past 12 months as a way of helping to save money, according to new research for the UK’s largest children’s charity, Barnardo’s. 

One in five parents (20%) surveyed by YouGov said they have struggled to provide sufficient food for their children due to the current cost-of-living situation.  

The current cost-of-living situation has seen a quarter (26%) of parents forced to sell possessions, one in five parents (20%) have taken on new credit cards, extra debt or a payday loan, whilst one in 50 parents (2%) have left pets at rescue centres.

Barnardo’s is concerned about the impact on children as over a quarter of parents (26%) said their child’s mental health has worsened due to the rising cost of living. 

The survey comes as Barnardo’s publishes its new report At what cost? The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people, with research provided by the Institute for Public Policy Research. In the report, Barnardo’s frontline workers warn of the struggles that vulnerable children, young people and families supported by Barnardo’s are facing every day in the UK: 

  • One young person spoke of having to buy “cheap £1 meals that only take 90 seconds in the microwave to cook” to ensure that both their food and energy bills stay low. 
  • Some spoke about rarely leaving the house. One suggested that it feels like the start of the Covid-19 pandemic again, like being back in lockdown. 
  • One said they and their partner were cutting back on the number of showers or baths they have in order to save money on bills.  
  • One reported having panic attacks while sleeping. Another said it “consumes so much mental energy always thinking about money”. 

The charity is providing emergency support to children and families to pay for food, help with heating, warm clothing and in some circumstances to purchase goods such as fridges and freezers where this would cause a family not to be able to have access to safe food.  In July 2022, three in five of its frontline staff (58%) reported supporting someone who was experiencing poverty.  

Kerry, 47, from Rotherham, and her 14-year-old daughter are being supported by Barnardo’s. Kerry said: 

“I’ve worked all my life. I was a prison officer and then a psychiatric support worker. But I was diagnosed with having two leaking heart valves last year. I had to leave work and am waiting for open heart surgery which keeps being delayed.  I’m now claiming benefits for the first time.  

“It’s been quite a shock. I’m unable to pay my energy bills and struggle for food. We’ve had to go to food banks and have been supported by Barnardo’s with food vouchers.  I’ve been cutting back on the amount and quality of the food shopping and I have gone without to make sure my daughter has a proper meal. We never go out now and I feel sorry having to say ‘we can’t afford it’. She’s been so understanding – but I find it so depressing and is a huge worry.” 

Project worker Vicki Revell, from a Barnardo’s service in Rotherham, said: 

“I support a group of teenage girls from families who are trying to save on energy bills by cutting down the number of times they can shower. Due to a local charity scheme, they have free access to a local gym and so they go down every day and use the showers there. But they are also wearing their clothes several times because their parents want to cut down using the washing machine. One girl was told by a parent to spray her clothes with air freshener.  

“I can see how this is affecting their self-esteem and mental health. I know school children who are having sandwiches as evening meals. I’ve been working with vulnerable children for 20 years, but things have never been as bad as they are now – and it’s only going to get worse.” 

Nearly four in five (78%) of the parents surveyed by YouGov said the Government was doing too little to mitigate the impacts of the rise in the cost of living upon families. Barnardo’s is calling on Ministers to introduce free school meals for all primary school-aged children in England. This would ensure every child would get at least one nutritious, filling meal a day, whatever they are facing at home. As a first step towards universal access, extending free school meals to those families in receipt of Universal Credit should be a key focus of the Government’s fiscal event planned for 31st October. 

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Lynn Perry MBE said:   

“No child should go to school hungry or return to a cold home, but the cost-of-living crisis is driving more and more families into poverty.  

“Our new research paints a deeply concerning picture, with families we support struggling to afford food, and our frontline workers saying they are stepping in to prevent children going hungry. 

 “We know that growing up in poverty makes it much harder to achieve a positive future.  

 “That’s why we’re asking the public to join us now by signing our petition calling on the Government to introduce free school meals for all primary school children in England, and to do more to tackle hunger during the school holidays.” 

Barnardo’s is calling on the public to join with the charity to take action on child poverty by signing a petition calling for free school meals during term time for all primary school children, and more help for families to tackle hunger during the school holidays.  

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Notes to editors  

YouGov survey: Total sample size was 1,053 GB parents of children aged 18 or under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th - 6th October 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB parents of children aged 18 or under.