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Women face a ‘disproportionate burden’ when managing household diets this Christmas

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Women face a ‘disproportionate burden’ when managing household diets this Christmas


Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Bill Payments and also in Care and Support, Education, Environment, Health

Christmas can be a time for celebration and indulgence, with many families experiencing higher shopping bills and consuming more calories than any other time of the year.

However, the rising cost of heating substantially increases incidences of food insecurity in poorer households around the Christmas period, and it may be women who have the biggest burden for concern about the household diet during this time, according to Dr Jesse Matheson from the Department of Economics at the University of Leicester.

Dr Matheson said: “Evidence suggests that women bear a disproportionate burden for concerns about the household diet. Women are more likely to be single parents and have a lower overall income - it therefore seems likely that they would be more subject to the added financial stresses of the winter and holiday season.

“Even within households, women seem to be more sensitive than men to the possibility of needing to forgo food.”

A recent study, published in Public Health Nutrition, found that non-married women are 67% more likely than non-married men to be in ‘food insecure’ households - largely explained by lower incomes and the greater likelihood of children. 

The study also found that a household is 47% more likely to be identified as ‘food insecure’ if the survey respondent is female, regardless of household income, number of children, or a number of other characteristics. This suggests that, on average, women and men in the same household perceive food insecurity differently.

The rising cost of bills affects many households and homeowners in negative ways over the Christmas period. A recent study in Canada, published in the Canadian Public Policy, provides evidence that this large and unexpected increase in the cost of heating bills has substantially increased the incidence of food insecurity in Canadian households.

Dr Matheson explained: “For more than a decade in Canada and the US, population surveys have included a series of questions which attempt to measure the food-security status of a household. In the winter of 2000–2001, energy prices in Canada surged and heating costs increased by 25% on average.

“It was not the poorest members of the population who bore the brunt of this expense. Rather, home owners were impacted the most. Whereas very poor households were often protected, at least in the short-run, by “utilities included” rental agreements, and received some relief through the government’s $1.4 billion Relief for Heating Expenses program, many home owners did not receive this vital support.”

These statistics, while evaluating Canada, have an alarmingly consistent parallel with the United Kingdom. Over the past year the Trussell Trust has reported a tripling in the number of UK households accessing food banks. Many point to the rising cost of household heating, between 8% and 11% so far in 2013 alone, as an explanation.

Dr Matheson appeals to the public to support local food banks, which will ensure that, when faced with uncertainty about the cost of living, everyone will have access to at least a tin of soup at Christmas time. It is time, he suggests, to take action and help those in need.

He concluded: “With fuel prices expected to continue rising, more UK families may have to choose between warmth and nourishment.

“We hope that no household needs to sacrifice a tin of soup for other basic needs. We need to continue researching how price increases impact different households; particularly those on tight budgets.

“To aid in this, we need to introduce a measure of food insecurity into UK surveys such as the General Household Survey. The relentless rise in fuel prices makes this all the more pressing.”


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