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More people skip meals to cope with rising costs

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One in seven people have skipped meals due to the rising cost of living, while others are sitting in cold homes in a bid to save money, worrying research reveals.

The number skipping meals has increased from one in eight recorded in November 2022, and one in 10 have prioritised meals for other family members above themselves.

For 4%, they resorted to visiting a food bank, according to the Which? Consumer Insight Tracker.

In one case highlighted by the consumer champion, 72-year-old Jackie Rudd is skipping meals two to three times a week.

The pensioner said: “The last week of the month, meals are missed – if you have no money for a loaf then there’s no lunch and if there’s no milk, then there’s no breakfast. Basic groceries have gone up to stupid levels – the loaf of bread I usually buy has gotten smaller and more expensive.”

For other Brits, they’re looking to cut back on the energy they use to help save money. Which? revealed seven in 10 put the heating on less due to rising prices, while four in 10 used less hot water.

A third who put their heating on less said they have often or always felt physically uncomfortable this winter as a result. Meanwhile, one in five said they have fewer hot meals to tackle rising bills.

An 85-year-old man told Which?: “The house is cold due to the cost of heating, so I am continually wearing layer upon layer of clothes. Saving money on heating allows more money for food.”

Brits fall behind on bills

The Consumer Insight Tracker also found that an estimated 2.3 million households said they missed or defaulted on a vital payment – such as a mortgage, rent, credit card or bill payment – in the last month. This mirrors the number who missed payments in January 2023, “demonstrating that financial difficulty has remained high in early 2023”, Which? said.

For six in ten adults – equivalent to 16.5 million households – they made at least one financial adjustment – such as cutting back on essentials, selling items or dipping into savings – in the last month to cover essential spending.

This figure is up from the 52% who said the same this time last year. However, it is lower than the peak of two-thirds (65%) making adjustments in September 2022.

Energy bill support to end in April

The Government’s £400 energy bill support scheme comes to an end this March, meaning from April, people can expect to pay more.

From April, the Energy Price Guarantee will also be less generous, as it will take average bills from £2,500 to £3,000. However, there were reports last week that some energy providers are preparing for the Government support to remain in place until June to help customers with rising bills.

A big cohort of charities and organisations have written an open letter to the Chancellor calling on him to delay the planned April energy price hikes. It is hoped the Chancellor will take the opportunity to make an announcement in next week’s Spring Budget.

Which? is also calling on essential businesses – such as supermarkets, energy and telecom providers – to ensure people have access to the best value products and services across the UK.

For example, supermarkets should increase availability of affordable and healthy own-brand budget ranges throughout their branches. Telecoms providers should cancel 2023 inflationary price hikes for financially vulnerable consumers – and allow all customers to leave without penalty when prices are hiked mid-contract.

Financial lifeline

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It’s hugely worrying that households across the country are forced to go hungry and sit in cold homes as they cannot afford basic essentials this winter.

“Which? is calling on the Government and essential businesses to do more to support their customers through this extraordinary cost of living crisis.

“With energy bills due to rise in April, the government must urgently consider postponing its decision to increase the energy price guarantee to £3,000. For some families, who continue to be battered by high inflation, this will offer an important lifeline to stop them falling into financial distress.”

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