Food consumed a huge wedge of our budget – leaving us vulnerable

In 2020/21 the average household spent £39.71 per person per week on all food and drink eaten both at home and out and about, This is down 17.8% in a year – largely because eating out fell 78% in real terms.

But as a percentage of incomes, it rose to 14.4%, up from 10.8% in 2019/20. Food absorbed 18.3% of the expenditure of the lowest fifth of earners – up from 14.7% in 2019/20. In both cases, this is higher than at any stage since the financial crisis in 2008.

Family food statistics for 2020/21 have bene published by the ONS: Family Food 2020/21 – GOV.UK (

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Food was already consuming a much bigger slice of our budgets, before the horror of food inflation kicked in. In the year to April 2021, when CPI inflation was up just 1.5%, we spent an average of over 14% of our incomes on food – and those on lower incomes spent over 18%. In both cases, this is higher than at any stage since the financial crisis in 2008. Some of this was due to pandemic trends, but it demonstrates how exposed we were when prices started shooting up.

“The proportion of our budgets spent on food owed a great deal to the restrictions that still applied elsewhere in 2020/21, which meant it overtook transport and recreation and culture, becoming our second biggest expense after energy. Some of the extra spending may have been to make up for what we were missing out on – which may be why sugar sales rose almost 24%, alcohol over 20% and confectionary almost 18%.

“And while some of this spending may have been easier to cut back on as life returned to normal, there’s a real chance that an awful lot of habits stuck. Assuming food and drink was still making up a larger proportion of household spending when inflation started to rocket, it would leave an awful lot of people vulnerable. Those on lower incomes in particular, who were spending almost a fifth of their income on food, are likely to have wrestled with price rises which have seen them go up over 16% in the year to October.

“It’s one reason why 41% of people say they are cutting back on essentials, including food, in order to make ends meet – and why this rises to 58% among those in the fifth most deprived areas. It’s also why the Trussell Trust says it distributed 1.3 million food parcels to people facing hardship between April and September – this up 52% from the same period in 2019.”