For about seven years during my school days, I recited the phrase “Give us today our daily bread” in the morning assembly, without fully grasping its meaning. Translated, it essentially conveys a simple plea: “Please feed us.”

Food, along with shelter and warmth, is one of the three essential things that humans need to survive, as depicted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. However, a significant number of people are struggling to afford their daily bread, as the cost of living continues to soar. A standard loaf now costs up to £2.80, reflecting a staggering rise. According to a DWP report, 12% of the population (around 4 million people) go hungry every day, with 7% being children. Magic Breakfasts also reports that 3 million children start their day hungry each day. Inflation, currently at 7.3%, and food price inflation, reaching a record 19.1%, are both contributing to this crisis, making it the highest among G7 economies at the time of writing.

The repercussions of such high food costs are far-reaching. Supermarkets find themselves discarding or donating surplus bread to charities that distribute it to those who couldn’t afford it in the first place. This practice, while well-intentioned, is economically counterproductive and fails to address the core issues of over-production and poverty, which require separate solutions. Making bread cheaper to buy could indeed improve accessibility for some, but it does not necessarily translate to reduced production costs. Many breadmakers might find it challenging to sustain themselves on lower income amidst the current high inflation rates.

The demographic most affected by the high cost of food is parents on low incomes, particularly those with growing children – and a significant portion of this group comprises women. Children, especially during their formative years, require ample nourishment for proper growth and cognitive development. Without sufficient food, they can become ill and fall behind their peers academically. Hence, parents are often forced to make difficult choices between nutritious foods and more filling, but less healthy, options.

A good nutritional diet is essential for absorbing the necessary nutrients into the body. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, children need between 500-2500 calories a day from a balanced diet that, according to the Eatwell plate should be made up of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins, and dairy. However, the cost of maintaining such a diet is now beyond the reach of many low-income families and those in minimum wage jobs. Recently, the British Association of Dietitians proposed a shift towards a plant-based diet, suggesting the replacement of red meat and dairy with plant-based proteins like beans, pulses, nuts, and whole grains. While this approach may be beneficial for health, it’s also true that these plant-based alternatives can be expensive and out of reach for many, including those with paid jobs, who also struggle to balance increasing rents, energy costs, and food expenses. Additionally, some plant-based alternatives can be equally unhealthy, containing high amounts of salt and sugar.

As a result, individuals often resort to cheaper, unhealthy, and highly processed foods that satisfy hunger but contribute to rising obesity rates in both children and adults. Childhood obesity rates have slightly decreased since 2021 but remain significantly higher than in 2019, particularly in children from deprived backgrounds. Moreover, 63% of adults are overweight, putting a strain on the NHS. Addressing obesity and related health issues is vital, and the NHS has opened obesity clinics and invested in technology to support dietary choices. While these interventions are valuable, they may not be sufficient on their own. A broader approach that makes healthy food more accessible and affordable is essential for long-term success. Feeding Britain is doing commendable work in reducing hunger and addressing obesity by collaborating with various partners to increase access to affordable food. Their efforts include supporting the formation partnerships with businesses and food community groups to establish collective buying networks and procure supplies directly from wholesalers and producers, benefiting local communities in need. I am so pleased to be one of many organisations across the country involved in this work.

The rising cost of daily bread is a pressing issue affecting millions of people. While addressing obesity through clinics and technology is valuable, it is essential to make healthy food options more affordable and accessible to create a lasting impact on the well-being of individuals and communities. Co-operation between various stakeholders is vital to achieving this goal and ensuring that “our daily bread” is not just a distant prayer, but a reality for everyone.

Cllr Kemi Akinola is CEO of Briton People’s Kitchen and Be Enriched, Labour & Co-operative Deputy Leader of Wandsworth Council, and Chair of the Co-operative Party Women’s Network.