‘Increasing’ need for food support, say local charities

Shopping basket at a checkout. Picture: Shutterstock. (35109280)

RISING food costs are disproportionately affecting Islanders from already disadvantaged groups, charities have warned – as the managing director of one of Jersey’s largest supermarket chains said prices looked unlikely to fall any time soon.

New figures released by Statistics Jersey this week showed that the cost of living had risen by 12.7% in a year – the largest increase since the 1980s, with pensioners and those on lower incomes some of the hardest hit.

Food prices – along with housing and energy bills – have been driving this blow to Islanders’ pockets, with the average shopping basket costing 14.2% more than it did last year.

Caring Cooks, a charity which supports Islanders struggling to feed their families and runs a pilot scheme providing free school meals to primary school students from households receiving Income Support, said it was facing one of its biggest challenges yet, with waiting lists currently the longest they have ever been.

‘There is an absolute and increasing need for support with food in Jersey,’ said Yvonne Corbin, the charity’s chief executive officer. Mrs Corbin also said that people with a limited grocery budget were turning to cheaper and more convenient options, such as microwave meals, which had a knock-on effect for Islanders’ health.

Ben Shenton, chair of Age Concern Jersey, said that many elderly people were also having to cut back as food, rent and heating bills ate into their savings.

He added that rising prices were particularly squeezing the lower-middle-income groups who had fewer ‘luxuries’ to cut back on.

‘As you get older, especially on a limited income, you become susceptible to nervousness, anxiety and lack of confidence. In turn, this can lead to loneliness and isolation,’ Mr Shenton said.

He added: ‘There is also a less obvious impact as the elderly worry about their families and how they are coping, and would go without if they felt their children or grandchildren were finding life tough.

‘Sadly there is a minority who will play on this weakness, leaving the victim under-nourished or scrimping on energy costs as they help others without complaining themselves.’

Meanwhile, Alliance managing director Andrew Bagot said that food retailers ‘need to work hard to mitigate costs’ in the current cost-of-living crisis.

Although he said that no one could predict how long the situation would last, he admitted that the first two quarters of 2023 were ‘looking like much of the same’ with food costs unlikely to decrease.

He added that Alliance was working to introduce more supermarket-named products, which were often more affordable than branded items, to the Island to reduce costs.

Mr Bagot said that while people were ‘increasingly aware of price rises’, customers’ ‘spending habits have not changed dramatically’.

The Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority recently announced that it would review the supply of groceries amid concerns over the rising costs of food.

Peter Hetherington, senior case officer, said: ‘The rising cost of living is obviously of concern not only to all Islanders and businesses but to government as well. The authority is focused on making sure markets are competitive and operating efficiently, because that benefits everyone.

‘We delivered several market studies last year and have more planned for 2023, with a focus on markets that have a direct impact on consumers.

‘In particular, we have recently launched market studies into the groceries sector and the provision of school uniforms, both of which can represent a significant outlay from household budgets.

‘We will use the conclusions of these studies to advise government and to make recommendations for improvements to competition should they be necessary.’

The JCRA also published the summary of findings from its freight market study last year, which concluded that lack of port space and limited warehouse capacity restricted new entrants and constrained growth, leading to less competition and higher prices. The study also said that Jersey’s grocery supply was over-reliant on the UK, and should try to develop additional trade routes with France.

Commenting on the significant recent rise in the rate of inflation, Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel said the ‘headline figures are not pleasant but not unexpected’ and confirmed that he would be chairing a cost-of-living meeting next week to review government measures.

Deputy Sam Mézec also took to social media to voice his concerns that local wages were not keeping up with the Island’s drastic inflation rates, saying that if pay did not keep up with inflation, ‘you are effectively getting a pay cut’.

Encouraging Islanders to join trade unions, he added: ‘If you are working as hard as you’ve ever done, you should not be punished with a real-terms pay cut for nothing. As well as it being bad for you and your family, it’s also bad for Jersey’s macroeconomic picture.’

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –