As cold weather begins to bite, the higher cost of food will leave many in London struggling to put a meal on the table and heat their homes at the same time.
Inflation has finally slowed in the UK, with recent data showing an annual rate of 3.9% in November – the lowest in two years.
While this is good news for a country battered by a cost of living crisis starting in 2022, inflation remains higher than in the European Union.
Especially in London, which has the highest poverty rate in the UK, people are struggling to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
Winter can be a magical time in Europe’s richest city, but beyond the sparkle is the grim reality of financial difficulties faced by many residents.
As Christmas lights brighten up busy shopping streets and excited tourists huddle around the seasonal markets, hundreds of Londoners line up in the city’s food banks.
“25% of households… are struggling to put food on the table,” Sarah Calcutt, CEO of food charity City Harvest, tells Euronews. “The problem is immense and it is much worse than last year. We have twice as many people on a waiting list this year than we had 12 months ago.”
In part, this is because living in the British capital is so expensive.
The cost of living skyrocketed in London last year when inflation reached a staggering 11.1%, exacerbating pre-existing crises of homelessness and poverty.
While most of Europe has since recovered, the situation hasn’t improved as much in the UK, where inflation was still 6.7% in September and 4.6% in October.
Between November 2021 and November 2023, the overall price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by around 27%, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS).
In 2022, the number of people experiencing destitution grew to 3.8 million, including one million children – two and a half times more than in 2017.
Though energy bills aren’t at the monstrous levels they reached in 2022, when the government stepped in to help families pay their bills, many households are still facing the same impossible choice: buy food or heat their homes.
A recent survey commissioned by home heating brand Airgon found that 34% of British households will be cutting back on their food shopping this winter to afford their energy bills.
Nearly 60% are worried about the cost of staying warm this winter, with one in 10 households in London spending more than 30% of monthly income on energy bills alone.
Making matters worse London has the highest poverty rate in the entire country.
Households are considered below the UK poverty line if their income is under 60% of the median household income after housing costs for that year.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an NGO focusing on poverty, more than one in four people in the British capital (27%) live in poverty.
That’s mainly because a majority of Londoners live in rented accommodation, which is expensive in the city.
The capital also has a bigger Black, Asian and ethnic minority population than anywhere else in the UK, and these households tend to be poorer (38%) than white ones (19%).
Euronews has contacted the London Mayor’s Office for comment but did not receive a timely response.
With food prices rising faster this year than any other since the 1970s, many London who are struggling to make ends meet are forced to rely on food banks.
Many are working poor. That is, individuals who, despite being employed and receiving a monthly salary (often minimum wage), do not earn enough to live properly, says Calcutt of food charity City Harvest.
Her organisation, which fights food waste while feeding those in need, also serves meals to nurses and junior doctors in British hospitals, newly qualified teachers in schools, and children whose families can’t afford to put a meal on the table every day.
As cold weather sets in, higher food costs are expected to leave many in London and the UK struggling to eat and heat their homes at the same time.
Warm banks – public spaces with heating – are available across the capital in libraries, community hubs and learning centres.
As Calcutt explains, families’ savings have been decimated by the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis.
“There are no reserves, no extra money,” she says. “Wages have not gone up in line with the cost of food and the cost of living in any way. And so there just isn’t enough money in the household to cope. If something goes wrong, that’s it. There’s no buffer, nothing.”