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. 

Flood

The water laps, and even when it does not lap there is always the possibility. It comes in and overtakes. You worry when it rains and you cannot always predict the damage the rain will do.

When it happens what you have is destroyed. The water permeates and rots the foundation. The damp and disease it carries invades your body. It leaves its traces on the walls. You try to clean the muck and grime from your memories and the material objects that hold them. You think you have it all cleaned up, but then it happens again.

Years of neglect have eroded the flood defenses that used to provide protection, at least from the worst of it. It lapped at your door, but didn’t invade where you live. It does now. But this does not matter to those who are in charge.

People ask, “Why you don’t leave the flood plain and go up the mountain?” To them, where you live is a choice. Choice is a myth, it is a privilege actually only afforded to a few.

It takes resources and stamina to go up the mountain. You are out of both. It would also mean leaving those things and people behind, whom you have come to love. Those you know you can depend upon. It doesn’t feel like there is room for everyone up the mountain. Besides, they do things differently up there. Living on the side of the mountain requires its own skills and knowledges. You don’t feel you would belong.

This is what it is like to live in poverty in the UK today. A wealthy country, where the people who have gossip in the isles of the supermarket as they choose between buying the whole salmon or the pork roast because they can practice thrift and get three meals by bulk cooking. For those who are struggling financially, the choice is much more stark–“should we get frozen pizza or the micro burgers“. A whole salmon or pork roast is not even an option as it would eat up the whole month’s food budget. What would you eat for the rest of the month. “We will get the pizza. Everyone likes pizza and it will last in the freezer until we need it. If we add a few mushrooms it is also more healthy compared to the micro burger. If we add a bit of tomato sauce it will also taste a bit better.” Pizza is self contained. It does not go to waste. It fills up your family and you can carry it home easily. This is how to practice thrift when your budget is stretched.

We need to repair our social welfare system and our community infrastructures in order to provide a defenses against the impacts of poverty on our neighbours and communities. This system acts like the flood defenses and can prevent future and further damage. But it does not repair the damage wrought by previous breaches. Nor does it help these households and communities settle on higher ground. We start by protecting but we should not stop there. Everyone deserves to be able to feel secure and to be able to define what that security looks like.

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.

Food Ladders: A multi-scaled approach to everyday food security and community resilience

Everyday food insecurity is more than just a lack of access to food based on income.  Poverty creates a hole that has emotional and nutritional effects, as well as implications for community cohesion. Food insecurity as it intersects with poverty also materialises in places to produce landscapes where food availability and the social connections it enables are scarce (for an open-access paper see Blake 2019).  Poor foodscapes contribute to vulnerabilities to the shocks associated with limited food choices, which in turn reduces the resilience of places and people by producing want, poor health, social isolation, and fear and distrust of one’s neighbours.  The Food Ladders approach seeks to overcome these place-based aspects of vulnerability by developing positive engagements through food and ultimately aims to help communities become the places where people want to live, raise their children, and grow old.  Continue reading

Are we framing this right?… Food Poverty or Everyday Food Insecurity

While Food Poverty is a popular term within the food charity sector in the UK, is it really what you want to be doing? Is it, in fact, everyday food insecurity that you seek to support?  Continue reading

Why SURPLUS food is important for feeding vulnerable people

There have been a number of arguments in the press and on social media arguing that the use of surplus food to feed food insecure people is at best only a short-term solution and at worst harmful (e.g., Caraher 2017).  I would agree that the hunger that is caused by poverty is not only not being addressed by the UK government (see Blake 2015, and a more recent update of the article published by GMPA) but in some cases is being enhanced by current government policy (e.g., a benefits system that has built in delays, draconian sanctions, programme cuts that impact on the most vulnerable). In reading the argument, however, a number of issues stand out as needing further clarification and interrogation.  Firstly, there is a lack of understanding about food surplus in terms of what it is.  Secondly, there is misconception about how food surplus becomes food for bellies as it travels through the charity sector. Thirdly, there is an overly narrow understanding of the value of surplus food both for charities and those whom they support. These issues are explored in this blog post. Continue reading