Consumers are suffering from a “toxic mix” of “facts and fear” about household incomes, eurozone debts and rising prices, according to Asda chief finance officer Judith McKenna.

McKenna said the true cost of living was only now “beginning to take its toll on British families” and that households were beginning to ration. She said policy makers had little grasp of the impact on low income households, the Telegraph reported.

She added Government should explain “in plain English exactly how bad it is and what needs to happen with regular updates explaining where we are with the plan to help calm things down”.

She said consumers were hearing about eurozone bail outs and interest rates without understanding the impact it will have on their own finances.

“It’s a toxic mix: Facts and fear,” she said. “We have got to stop scaring people. When I speak to people in our stores every week they tell me they are getting increasingly worried.”

Sainsbury’s finance director John Rogers said he sees little prospect of a quick recovery in consumer spending. “It’s very difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel at the moment,” he said.