Could you feed yourself on less than £5 a day?

December 12th 2016

Nisreen Mansour considers how the cost of an indulgent Christmas dinner sits in stark contrast to what the average person spends on food in Wales.

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Our latest subscribers’ briefing looks at Wales’ relationship with food, exploring what we eat, what we buy and how much we spend.  I was surprised to learn that on average,  £32.65 is spent on household food and non-alcoholic drink supplies per person per week, equating to less than £5 a day. Given that lunchtime meal deals at the cheaper end of the range cost £3, there’s not a lot left over for food at home. And of course £32.65 is just an average – many people must spend less than this a week.

The amount people spend per week on food is lower in Wales compared to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and second only to the West Midlands. While what is spent is already comparatively low, when people in Wales were surveyed in 2014 half of the respondents said they had cut back on their food expenditure in the past six months for financial reasons.  The changes they made ranged from making packed lunches more often and eating out less frequently to purchasing more food items on special offer.

This got me thinking about my personal attitudes to food and money – do I really know how much I spend on food? And what about all the other food I consume which other people have purchased? I frequently eat with friends and family and give little consideration to the cost of the food they are sharing with me. I see food as a key ingredient (excuse the pun) to socialising and being a welcoming host, in a very different way to how I perceive spending on clothing or petrol for example. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely tried all the aforementioned ways to cut back my expenditure on food – even quitting those £3 meal deals – but I think I would still struggle to spend less than £5 a day.

In the lead up to Christmas, adverts and promotions for seasonal food are everywhere – and are intrinsically linked to the idea of being welcoming and social. Images of tables overloaded with food, towers of mince pies and even the yard-long Galaxy bar(!) I walked past in Co-op the other day suggest we should all be indulging to the point of gluttony. The estimated cost of a family’s Christmas dinner is approximately £140 – equivalent to the sum that the average person spends on food over a four week period. While we are not comparing like with like (the £140 figure is not per person), the difference is staggering.

This comparison is not intended as a criticism. It is a reminder of how much people do spend at Christmas compared to other times of the year, and how the marketers’ visions of decadent Christmas dinners must be beyond the reach of many peoples’ budget. In fact, we know very little about the sort of decisions people make around food and cost, and the potential health and social implications of this. With warnings being issued about food prices rising in the New Year, it is important that we begin to gather much more information about how people’s diets are effected by financial circumstances.

Nisreen Mansour is the Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation.

Our latest Equality and Social Justice Briefing is available exclusively for subscribers, and can be downloaded here. Not signed up yet? Click here to subscribe.

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