While it is not right that anyone should go hungry, this new map of local authority estimates of three measures of food insecurity for the UK shows that it is much worse in some places compared to others.
In the UK many are not food secure. Food security is the ability to consistently afford, access and utilise the food needed to maintain good health and wellbeing. When we think of food insecurity, we tend to think of it in relation to low-income countries. More recently, however, as a nation we are beginning to recognise that a significant proportion of the UK population is not food secure. Much of this awareness raising has been as a result of efforts by food charities and campaigns such as that spearheaded by Marcus Rashford.
While this awareness raising has been welcome, the focus has been on those who are at the sharpest end of food insecurity; those who are skipping meals for a whole day not out of choice. Food banks have been set up in communities where people have recognised this problem of hunger with the intention of meeting immediate food need. Hunger is understood as having been hungry at least once in the previous month but were unable to get food. This is our first measure.
We identify two further measures.
Those who struggle include people who have cut back on food or skipped meals. In addition they have received support from their community with food essentials or they indicated they could not get to the shops, could not get a delivery, or were too ill to get food. Those who experience these additional indicators of food insecurity are not typically included in the statistics, which tend to focus on financial reasons for food insecurity.
A further group are those who worry about being able to adequately supply the food they need for them and their families. This latter group are typically considered marginally food secure because they have enough food. However, they may have traded down on the nutritional quality of the food they purchase (Drewnowski 2012). We have included this category because there is firstly a mental stress associated with food worry. Secondly, these are people who are at risk of having low or very low food security, for example through an unexpected expense, illness or relationship breakdown. We have seen many people over the period of the pandemic who have fallen from this group into the other types of food insecurity.
The burden of these forms of food insecurity includes immediate threats to health and wellbeing (Blake 2019). This burden includes the stress of trying to manage a budget that may not extend sufficiently, the worry about providing adequate nutrition, and the mental load associated with trying to navigate limitations imposed by transportation, inadequate equipment, cost, physical ability and household food preferences. Trading down on food quality and nutrition extracts a price to physical health in terms of diet related illness but it also results in narrower diets and the loss of understanding about what certain foods are and how to cook them. Finally, research demonstrates that those who struggle to access food are also isolated, which has an impact on quality of life and wellbeing (Blake 2019).
Food insecurity is concentrated into places. What this means is that cumulatively the effects of food insecurity include reductions in the ability of a community to be resilient in the face of crisis because community based social networks have been lost. Local foodscapes have become food deserts because the demand for and the supply of healthy food is not present in the place where people live at a price they can afford. The burden of food insecurity also means that people in these communities struggle to see how they can contribute to achieving wider social and environmental goals that shape life in the UK today and help define us as a society.
Many local governments have spent considerable time and resources enabling access to food by supporting food banks whilst also moving those using foodbanks onward. Many are also looking at ways to support those who are moderately food insecure and those who are worried about being able to purchase food that contributes to their health, social and local economic wellbeing. Until now, however, there has not been an estimate of these three levels of food insecurity at the local authority scale across the whole of the UK.
The UK Local Government food security estimates were developed to help provide local level benchmarking. The purpose is to inform the types of services and support that are needed to achieve food security for everyone and to move beyond a focus on food banks.
The data sources and methodology used to create the estimations are briefly outlined in this document. Further background, context, results and implications will be shortly published in the academic literature and this document will be updated with references to those publications. If, in the meantime, you have further questions, please do contact the research team.
The research team would be delighted to hear how the UK LAFI estimations are being used and can be contacted via our emails above. Specifically Angelo Moretti and Adam Whitworth can offer guidance regarding the estimation and Megan Blake can provide insight into food security and insecurity in the UK, its causes and effects as well as potential solutions at the local authority scale.
If you would like further information about the Food Foundation data, please contact email@example.com.
An excel file of the estimates is available upon request.