Why is the UK running out of certain foods? Food insecurity has climbed up the political agenda in recent weeks as five of the six largest supermarkets have started rationing vegetables. Sustain’s Vicki Hird explains that the current shortages are exposing system issues in the UK’s unsustainable and unresilient food sector, as supply chains are threatened by a combination of poor weather conditions, trade frictions and higher costs of production for growers. Tim Benton, research director of emerging risks at Chatham House, has warned about the need to “de-risk” food supply chains in an increasingly insecure world.  

Food supply shocks will exacerbate global hunger... The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on climate impacts explains how the climate crisis poses an acute threat to global food supplies, which has severe consequences for global hunger and security. The World Food Programme estimates that the number of people facing acute food insecurity more than doubled from 135 million people before the pandemic to 345 million, mostly in poorer countries.

  • …worsen food poverty in the UK… In richer countries, populations will face rising prices with more instances of shortages. Increasing numbers of people are already struggling to put food on the table due to the rising cost of living. The Independent Food Aid Network is already reporting record increases in demand for UK food banks, with 80% of food aid providers reporting a “significant number of people needing help for the first time” and half of the organisations surveyed saying that “if demand increased, they would have to reduce the level of support they could provide or turn people away”.
  • …and profiteers will generate windfalls. In this context, the spotlight is falling on those people and organisations within the food system who are benefitting from food inflation and shortages. Last year, Oxfam’s Profiting from Pain report found that “62 new food billionaires have been created” as the largest food corporations receive windfalls from a 30% increase in global food prices over the previous 2 years. Greenpeace’s new report on food profiteering since the pandemic has found that 20 of the world’s biggest food corporations (in the grain, fertiliser, meat and dairy sectors) gave $53.5bn to their shareholders in the last two financial years. The report shows how the 20 companies control supply chains for food itself, and information about those supplies, which fuels commodity speculation.

Creating a sustainable, nutritious and resilient food supply. Just as energy inflation led to greater scrutiny of UK energy resilience, recent food shortages have prompted a wider debate about creating more nationally self-sufficient food supplies. The idea is that by restructuring the food system, it is possible to both keep food affordable whilst also ensuring better outcomes for farmers, the natural environment and public health. This will require moving away from the dominant globalised model that promotes vertically integrated monopolies which control most of the supply chain. In the current business model, UK farmers receive less than 1% of the profit made on key items like sliced bread, beef burgers, carrots and cheese, according to analysis from Sustain. Alongside strong regulation to stop abuse in supply chains, greater support is needed for domestic growers to be able to invest in agroecological production and new technologies to improve resilience and reduce exposure to import price shocks.

Weekly Updates


Councillor support for green energy investment. Nearly 90% of councillors think the Government should prioritise investment for offshore wind turbines, including 79% of Conservative councillors, according to new polling by Survation commissioned by Autonomy. Similarly, 86% of councillors think the Government should prioritise investment for solar panels, including 74% of Conservative councillors, while only 23% think the Government should prioritise investment for fracking.

Proposals for electricity market reform. In a new report, Common Wealth evaluates the merits of various proposals for reforming Britain’s wholesale electricity market including a price cap for low carbon generators, a windfall tax on low carbon generations, splitting the electricity market and a publicly owned generating company. The report concludes that a publicly owned generation company (as proposed in the form of Great British Energy by the Labour Party) “represents a key under-explored option for addressing windfall profits, high electricity prices, and a wholesale market in need of reform for a clean energy future.”


Renters and falling house prices. While falling house prices “may seem like a good thing”, they would have to fall by “a massive amount” to return affordable levels, causing a potential financial crisis and “disastrous recession”, argues Josh Ryan-Collins of UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. And while there may be a gradual fall in prices, the “proportion of people continuing to rent… will continue to rise and home ownership to decline”. Ryan-Collins suggested that the government should “explore more innovative options to convert planned or existing stock into affordable rental properties”.

Macroeconomic policy

The macroeconomics of austerity. A new report from the Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) argues that “the total economic damage inflicted by austerity is significantly higher than previously thought, needlessly cutting more than half a trillion pounds from public expenditure”. Using official figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the report finds that governments “from 2010 onwards could have maintained historic rates of growth in public spending and still have reduced Britain’s government debt burden by 2019”.

Monetary policy

Bank of England independence inquiry. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into independence of the Bank of England as 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the Bank of England Act 1998. The committee is calling for written submissions by Thursday 13th April 2023.


‘Pay to work’ childcare costs. One in ten parents are “effectively paying to work”, spending their entire take home pay (or more) on childcare costs according to new research by Pregnant Then Screwed. In a survey of 24,000 parents, the campaign group found that more than a quarter paid 75% of their pay towards childcare and a fifth paid more than half.

£1.75bn needed for childcare in the budget. Gender equality think tank the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is calling on the Chancellor to boost funding for early years and childcare by £1.7bn in the Spring Budget to help families with the cost of living crisis. WBG calculates that this is the estimated “shortfall between current Government funding for the existing 15 and 30-hour ‘free’ schemes, and the actual cost to providers of delivering those hours”.