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Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

Now that we know the extent of food insecurity in the UK, the Government’s obligations are clear.

43% of Universal Credit claimants experienced food insecurity

For the first time, the Government has laid bare the true scale of household food insecurity in the UK.

The Government’s own research conclusively shows that, even prior to the pandemic, one in twelve of all households in the UK were experiencing low or very low levels of food security. 

The data was in the Family Resources Survey 2019/20, published by the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday 25th March.

Most shockingly, it shows that more than four out of ten (43%) households in receipt of Universal Credit experience high or very high levels of household food insecurity.  This confirms what people who have to rely on Universal Credit to survive have known for a long time: the level of Universal Credit is simply too low. 

It’s worth noting that the survey asked only about people’s experiences in the 30 days before they were interviewed. If people had been asked about the full year, the number of food insecure households would have been far higher still.  

It is an indictment of successive Governments that benefit levels across the board have been allowed to drop to such low levels that we have reached this stage. 

Millions of families face worrying whether their food will run out before they get money to buy more; can’t afford balanced meals; skip meals or are forced to eat less than they should because there isn’t enough money for food.

The data will be invaluable in enabling the UK to better understand poverty and therefore to address it. That we have this new information is thanks to sustained pressure from End Hunger UK campaigners and others in recent years. Much analysis will come, but there are two conclusions that can immediately be drawn:

Firstly, the Government’s own research makes the case for retaining the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit after September unanswerable. As this new report clearly demonstrates, to fail to do so would plunge countless families further into hunger.

Secondly, now that it is equipped with this data, it is time for Government to come up with a coherent plan for ending household food insecurity in the UK. That means making sure all incomes are adequate to ensure every family has enough food to eat, and that no parent or child needs to go to bed worrying where the next meal will come from.  

Notes from the data

  • Universal Credit is the single highest contributory factor by some considerable way – in driving levels of household food insecurity in the UK [See table 9.7].
  • Over 4 in 10 households in receipt of Universal Credit (43%) experience low or very low food security – over five times the national average of 8% across all households.
  • Over a quarter of households on Universal Credit (26%) are ranked as having ‘very low’ food security – more than six times the national average of 4% for all households.
  • Households in receipt of state benefits in general terms experience far higher levels of household food insecurity than the general population [See table 9.7]
  • One in four households on any income-related benefit experience low or very low levels of food security, including: Income Support (36%); Jobseekers Allowance (37%); Employment Support Allowance (31%).
  • One in four households in receipt of carers allowance and more than one in five households in receipt of personal independence payments are food insecure.
  • Specific groups experiencing particularly high levels of household food insecurity:
    • 31% of working age households living in social housing experience food insecurity compared to just 3% of owner occupiers [See table 9.8]
    • 29% of single parent households [See table 9.2]
    • 25% of households with one or more unemployed adults under state pension age
    • 19% of households with one or more disabled adults under state pension age.
    • 19% of black households, compared to 8% for the general population [See table 9.6]

Niall Cooper says the new data on household food insecurity shows the need to protect the Universal Credit uplift, and must lead to a coherent Government strategy to prevent poverty.

Author: Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty

26th March 2021

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