Millions are hungry in the UK, Here is where they are.

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.

Click here to go directly to the map.

Click here to view the methodology briefing document.

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. 

Contacts

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 office@foodfoundation.org.uk.

Data File

An excel file of the estimates is available upon request. 

GODAN seminar on Food Insecurity and Food Ladders as a way repair communities.

In June I gave a webinar to an international audience who are part of the Global Open DAta Network (GODAN). GODAN’s mission is to harness data to eradicate hunger and malnutrition across the globe.

The talk is in three parts.

In the first segment I outline the four dimensions of food security as defined by the UN FAO include affordability, access, utilisation and consistency over time. The FAO argue that all four pillars must be in place for a household to be food secure.  While the lack of affordability is well recognised as a cause of food insecurity in wealthy countries, other dimensions are often overlooked.  Furthermore, some groups are more likely to experience greater vulnerability across these four pillars compared to others. 

In the second segment I look at the effects of food insecurity on individuals and households. These effects sediment into landscapes.  Moreover, these effects reinforce and amply the problems that give rise to food insecurity in the first place.

In the final segment I talk about my Food Ladders framework. Food Ladders is an evidence-based framework that helps to structure local responses to food insecurity and repair its effects through targeted interventions that catch those who need it most, build the capacity of those who are able, and facilitate transformation in ways that support all of four food security pillars.

You can watch the video here:

Megan Blake, GODAN Food Poverty webinar series

My life as a food geographer

I recently participated in a talk with Hannah Pitt about my career as a food geographer. In this talk I purposely did not abstract my experience, but tried to be very open about my journey. You can watch the video of the coffee morning talk Hannah and I participated in with the RGS-IBG Food Geographies research group. I think as more senior scholars that it is important to be open about our journey to where we are.

Behind hungry children there are hungry parents.

Behind hungry children are hungry parents. We know that typically parents feed their children before they feed themselves in the UK. We also know that households that are most likely to be food insecure tend to live in areas where others are also struggling. While enough money to purchase food is important, it isn’t enough. We need solutions that address the immediate need but also solutions that work toward a longer term, socially just resilience.

I was recently invited to participate in a webinar on children’s food insecurity. It was attended by more than 300 people from across industry, policy, community, health, and academic sectors. It was organised by Bernadette Moore and Charlotte Evans of the N8 Food Systems Policy Hub.

Using food systems to address children’s food insecurity.

Elaborating Food Ladders

In this post I provide an elaboration of the Food Ladders framework. This elaboration provides greater detail in terms of how to identify activity and where it sits on the the ladders. There are three ladders in the Food Ladders approach: 1. Food access and nutritional value, 2. Social, and 3. Economic.

Coronavirus: inspiring community attempts to stem increased hunger need government

Coronavirus: inspiring community attempts to stem increased hunger need government help

Megan Blake, University of Sheffield

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed just how much we depend on easy access to food. The beginning of the UK’s lockdown saw the closure of restaurants and pubs, and empty supermarket shelves. The number of people who are struggling to access food because of financial difficulties has dramatically swelled. Amid this turmoil, there has been an incredible response from the social, public and commercial sectors to provide food to people in need. But we need government to support their efforts. Continue reading