UK Food Security

The UK Government recently agreed to measure food insecurity in the annual Family Resources Survey (FRS) – which is used to produce UK poverty statistics – see https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/27/government-to-launch-uk-food-insecurity-index

This was a surprise as Government Ministers had previously resisted a Private Members Bill by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, which required them to measure food insecurity – see https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/foodinsecurity.html

The background to this issue is discussed below.

In 2014, a first attempt was made to measure food insecurity in the UK using the internationally agreed Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) question module in the Gallup World Poll (which is a small survey) – this is used to measure food insecurity in the Sustainable Development Goals.  The results showed that:

  • an estimated 8.4 million people, the equivalent of entire population of London, were living in households reporting having insufficient food in the UK in 2014, the 6th largest economy in the world.
  • 5.6% of people aged 15 or over in the UK reported struggling to get enough food to eat and a further 4.5% reported that, at least once, they went a full day without anything to eat.

 See Too Poor to Eat report at https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/FoodInsecurityBriefing-May-2016-FINAL.pdf

Using these survey data UNICEF found that in 2014, 10% of children in the UK are reported to be living in households affected by severe food insecurity.  According to these data, the UK had the highest rate of severe child food insecurity of any country in Europe See https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/IWP_2017_09.pdf

The Food Standards Agency recently released the results of the more reliable Wave 5 (2018 data) of the Food and You survey which found that:

  • Ten percent of respondents lived in households with marginal food security and 10% lived in households with low or very low food security (known as ‘food insecure’).
  •  About one in six (17%) of respondents reported that their household worried in the last 12 months about running out of food before there was money to buy more.
  •  More than one in ten respondents said that in the last 12 months they had experienced food running out when they did not have money to get more (12%)

See https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/food-and-you-wave5-combined-report-web-version_1.pdf

More recently, the Trussell Trust has reported that it gave out 1.6 million three day food emergency food supplies between April 2018 to March 2019.  More than half a million of these (577,618) went to children. This is an 18.8% increase on the previous year (2017/18).

The trust blames the continuing austerity measures and the five week wait for Universal Credit for this increase.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said:

“What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.

“Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed – that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a food bank. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics. As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households".  

“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place. No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That’s why in the long-term, we’re urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.” 

See https://www.trusselltrust.org/2019/04/25/record-1-6m-food-bank-parcels/

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Publication date: 
May 8 2019