Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food Contents

Chapter 3: Poverty and food insecurity

51.Poor diet can have a significant impact upon an individual’s health and life chances and is associated with considerable, unacceptable costs to the NHS and UK economy. Incidences of poor diets and resultant health problems, though widespread in every demographic, are more densely concentrated in lower income groups who must overcome far greater hurdles to access a healthy diet than their more fortunate counterparts. These individuals and groups are significantly more likely to suffer from the particularly acute levels of food insecurity marked by visits to food banks and, in some cases, persistent hunger. One academic described food insecurity as: “a public health emergency”.84The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a significant impact on income for many people, exacerbating existing problems of poverty and food insecurity. We have, where possible, incorporated some of the preliminary analysis of this impact into our report.

52.Food insecurity should have no place in 21st century Britain. No individual should be skipping meals because there is insufficient food for themselves or their family. And yet, this is still the case. We were compelled to ask: how does the situation of food insecurity arise and what could be done to prevent it? The first section of this chapter therefore addresses the causes of food insecurity, concluding that it is a symptom of poverty. It is important to understand the lived reality behind the statistics, so this chapter draws from what people with lived experience of poverty and food insecurity told us. It was beyond our remit to address the root causes of poverty, but it was perhaps inevitable that we make some comment on areas that were drawn to our attention: particularly the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit (UC) which has for many represented a crisis leading to hunger.

53.Beyond this issue of acute food insecurity is a wider issue: access to healthy diets. A large proportion of the population, not just the poorest in society, cannot easily access a healthy, balanced diet that provides them with the right quantities of the nutrients they need. Like hunger, this is a type of malnutrition—in this case, individuals can be both overnourished with calories and at the same time undernourished in relation to key nutrients.85 No demographic group in the UK meets the Government’s guidance on healthy diets, and levels of obesity and diet related ill health are too high in every demographic group—but both obesity and diet-related ill health disproportionally affect lower income groups.

54.The question of the affordability of healthy food arose early in our inquiry: healthy food has been shown to be three times more expensive, calorie for calorie, than less healthy alternatives. We were also directed to research estimating the true cost of meeting the Government’s recommendations for healthy eating, including unsettling statistics demonstrating the large proportion of disposable income that the poorest families would have to spend to meet them. We investigated the benefits system and asked why consideration of the cost of a healthy diet does not form part of its design. Other barriers to healthy diets, including physical resources and the increased level of effort and ‘emotional bandwidth’ required for the poorest families to meet these recommendations also emerged as very real barriers to consuming a healthy diet.

Box 2: Experiences of food insecurity

In a series of phone calls, facilitated by Sustain and Church Action on Poverty, the secretariat spoke with individuals who have experienced food insecurity.

Heather from Newcastle said:

“In Biker, people are on the pre-paid meters so they’ve got to go and top up their electricity, however many times, so it will be the same for them, having to look constantly how much electricity, how much gas they’ve got, and then trying to work out exactly how much it is going to cost to boil that kettle. Is it going to be cheaper to boil that kettle to make a pot noodle or is it going to be cheaper to try and cook something from their freezer, like a pizza? Is it going to be cheaper to put that in the oven? Or is it going to be a case of you just don’t cook that night. Constant awareness, constant choices but it’s not really a choice because you have no choice but to think of things like that, and it is mentally draining.”

Source: See Appendix 5.

Measurements of poverty

55.All measures of poverty rely, to some degree, on determining the amount of money available to people. The Government’s definition of poverty is based on the median household income without reference to expenditure other than housing costs. Other measurements, including those based on the recommendations of the Social Metrics Commission, (SMC)86 include measurements of other aspects of life which affect spending power such as savings and living costs. As defined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), income must be related to necessary outgoings: “poverty is when your resources fall well below your needs.”87

56.The SMC recommended a new measure of poverty which is based on the extent to which someone’s resources meet their needs. There was broad support for this measure. Helen Barnard, Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, told us that:

“The best measure that we have now is the Social Metrics Commission measure. This is particularly because it takes into account the inescapable costs—such as housing, childcare and the costs of being disabled—as well as your resources, which are income but also things such as liquid savings. Those two sides of the equation are very important: it is not just about how much income you have but about what things cost.”88

57.Garry Lemon, Director of Policy, External affairs and Research at the Trussell Trust, explained that by considering costs as well as expenses, “you can see that groups that have had policy solutions put in place for them are less likely to be in poverty than in the past. For example, particularly with older people we have seen an impressive decrease in poverty.”89 Mr Lemon suggested better understanding of poverty levels could help to improve policy making, and suggested that, “the decrease in poverty for older people is an example of where good evidence-based policy can make a real difference if the numbers are understood properly.”90

58.The headline poverty measures used in the UK count the number of individuals falling below a threshold of household income. One commonly used measure is people in relative low income (sometimes referred to as relative poverty). This counts people living in households with income below 60% of the median household income. Another measure is absolute low income (or absolute poverty), which counts people living in households with income below 60% of the median in some base year (usually 2010/11),91 uprated for inflation.92 Income can be measured before housing costs (BHC) or after housing costs (AHC).

59.The 2018/19 figures for the UK suggest that:

11 million people (17%) are in relative low income BHC and 14.5 million AHC (22%). This includes 2.8 million children (20%) in relative low income BHC and 4.2 million AHC (30%).93

9.7 million people (15%) are in absolute low income BHC and 12.9 million AHC (20%). This includes 2.4 million children (17%) in absolute low income BHC and 3.7 million AHC (26%).94

These figures are also outlined in Figure 5.

60.Trend analysis of poverty statistics suggests that, over the longer-term, there has been a reduction in poverty rates since the late 1990s for children, pensioners and working-age parents. However, for working-age adults without dependent children, the likelihood of being in relative low income has increased. There are also suggestions that poverty rates as a whole have started to increase. Projections from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation,95 indicate that:

“The official rate of relative AHC poverty is projected to rise by over 2 [percentage points] between 2015–16 and 2021–22. All of the projected increase in relative poverty is driven by relative child poverty, which is projected to rise by 7 [percentage points].”96

Trends in the SMC measure are similar to relative poverty measured after housing costs (AHC), though the SMC measurement gives a lower percentage for pensioner poverty, and higher for poverty among children and people in families where someone is disabled than the official statistics.97

61.Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), highlighted that child poverty has risen significantly and that the figures for child poverty also highlight the levels of in work poverty. She stated that child poverty, “has risen by 500,000 since 2010, up to 4.1 million from 3.6 million. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, we expect that level to go on rising to above 5 million. Seven out of 10 of those children live with at least one parent who works.”98 Ms Garnham highlighted that the proportion of in work poverty has a particular impact on children in those families because fewer of them are entitled to support like free school meals which are based on receipt of benefits.99

Figure 5: Number and proportion of adults and children in relative and absolute poverty, before and after housing costs, UK, 2018/19

Inforgraphic showing number and proportion of adults and children in relative and absolute poverty, before and after housing costs

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Households below average income (HBAI) statistics, (26 March 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

COVID-19 and poverty

62.Following the outbreak of COVID-19, it became clear that the figures on poverty we received at the beginning of the inquiry may no longer reflect the current and future reality. The World Bank has estimated that up to 60 million people worldwide will be pushed into “extreme poverty” as a result of the pandemic100 and the UK will not be exempt from this trend.

63.Official national statistics indicating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the UK labour market are not yet available but there are some clear indicators that coronavirus will have a significant effect on poverty levels. Some sectors have almost entirely shut down, 101 and a sharp recession appears likely.102 The Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak MP, told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that:

“I certainly will not be able to protect every job and every business. We are already seeing that in the data. No doubt there will be more hardship to come. This lockdown is having a very significant impact on our economy. We are likely to face a severe recession, the likes of which we have not seen, and that will have an impact on employment.”103

64.Analysis of YouGov survey data by the Food Foundation has found that 2% of respondents had lost all of their income, whilst 6% said they have had to borrow money or take out personal loans as a result of COVID-19.104 New Universal Credit claims increased dramatically at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since 16 March to the end of April 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions received over 1.8 million claims for Universal Credit, over 250,000 claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance, and over 20,000 claims for Employment and Support Allowance. Overall, this is six times the volume that it would typically experience and in one week, there was a 10-fold increase. The rate for Universal Credit claims appears to have stabilised at about 20, 000 to 25,000 per day which is double that of a standard week pre-COVID-19. The DWP has stated that they issued almost 700,000 advances to claimants who felt they could not wait for their first routine payment and that the vast majority of these claimants received money within 72 hours.105

65.It appears that, financially, lower earners have been hardest hit by the outbreak, with one third of employees in the bottom 10% of earners working in shut down sectors, compared to 5% in the top 10%. Moreover, less than 10% in the bottom half of earners say they can work from home.106

Food insecurity

66.The term ‘food poverty’ is often used interchangeably with the term ‘food insecurity’. Food insecurity has been described as: “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g. without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies).”107 Food insecurity prevalence is, therefore, a measure of individual or household inability to attain sufficient nutritious food.

67.Until recently, data on the prevalence of food insecurity was not collected routinely in the UK.108 There are, however, some other measures of food insecurity that were highlighted in our evidence that can be used to estimate its prevalence:

A 2018 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations found that between 2015 and 2017, 2.2 million people in the UK were severely food insecure.109 A report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee suggested that this represented “the highest reporting level of any EU country, and means that the UK is responsible for one in five of all severely food insecure people in Europe.”110

Results from the 2018 Food and You Survey, which found that: “80% of respondents lived in households with high food security, 10% in households classified as marginally food secure, and 10% reported living in households with low or very low food security.”111

68.Our evidence highlighted the use of food banks as a key indicator of levels of food insecurity. Figures from the Trussell Trust, which runs around 1,200 food bank centres across the UK, indicated both a concerning level of use, and suggested that the reliance on foodbanks was increasing. Figures published by the Trussell Trust figures showed that:

Between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, the Trussell Trust distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food parcels. This represents a 19% increase on the previous year;

In the last five years, food bank use in the Trussell Trust network has increased by 73%.112

69.Based on the available evidence and despite the lack of official data on food insecurity, we think it is fair to conclude that there are unacceptable levels of food insecurity in this country. No one should struggle to access the food they need. Evidence from the Food Foundation, LSHTM and SHEFS reached a similar conclusion, stating that:

“Due to the lack of standardisation and comprehensive measurement of food insecurity it is difficult to definitively state the prevalence. However, it is clear that food insecurity rates are too high, and despite being the fifth richest economy in the world, the UK has some of the worst rates of food insecurity in Europe.”113

Box 3: Experiences of food insecurity

In a series of phone calls, facilitated by Sustain and Church Action on Poverty, the secretariat spoke with individuals who have experienced food insecurity. Cath from Newcastle said:

“When you are trying to make meals, you want to make a meal that is going to fill everybody and unfortunately that means you use repetitive ingredients as well. So, for example, to buy frozen vegetable is a lot cheaper because you are getting quantity. So, if I can get three meals out of buying say a frozen bag of onions and peppers, what am I going to use? I’m going to use those packets three times in different meals.”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use what we call the yellow sticker aisle. We all do that. If you’re on a budget, you got to do that.”

“You used to get your money fortnightly. That’s got to last two weeks. You need to make your bills, so your bills come out first, then your shopping. So you want that shopping to be as economical as possible, to last 14 days. In last few days, you may just have to eat once.”

Source: See Appendix 5.

COVID-19 and food insecurity

70.In-depth analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity is not yet available but from the existing figures it appears clear that levels of food insecurity have risen sharply in a short space of time.

71.In April 2020 the Food Foundation commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey to determine the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on experiences of food insecurity. Based on the survey, the Food Foundation estimated that: “More than three million people (6%) in Great Britain have gone hungry since lockdown began three weeks ago, reporting that someone in their household has been unable to eat, despite being hungry, because they did not have enough food.”114 Similarly, the Trussell Trust has reported an 81% increase in emergency food bank use during the last two weeks of March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.115

72.An increase in food insecurity due to the COVID-19 crisis is not an exclusively British problem. Food banks in Spain and France have reported an increase in food distribution,116 and the Italian Government has allocated €400 million for food vouchers.117

Measuring food insecurity

73.In 2019, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it would introduce household food insecurity questions to the Family Resources Survey,118 which it told us would “provide information on household food security, allowing us to investigate drivers and identify the groups most at risk.”119 This followed the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill by Emma Lewell-Buck MP calling for the measurement to be introduced.120 The Government told us that the first data will not be available until 2021.121

74.There was criticism within our evidence of the Government’s previous failure to routinely collect data on levels of food insecurity. Written evidence from the Government stated that: “There are no existing sources which give us complete, comprehensive information on an annual basis for the UK as a whole” and that the Food Security Assessment was last published as a whole document in 2010.122

75.Julia Gault, Deputy Director Labour Market, Families & Disadvantage at the Department for Work and Pensions, referred to food insecurity and its relationship to household income, stating that: “One of the things that is very clear from the existing evidence base is that it is really difficult to get a good handle on that in a robust, analytical way from the data sources that are currently available to us.” The Committee’s Chair, Lord Krebs, suggested to Ms Gault that:

“… if you wanted to be critical, it is quite shocking that the Government do not know the basic facts about food insecurity, which is what you are telling us.”123

76.In response, Ms Gault conceded that: “We need to know more, and action has now been taken since April through the Family Resources Survey. We have been collecting more data to improve our understanding.”124

77.The decision to measure household food security through the DWP’s Family Resources Survey (FRS)125 was welcomed by campaigners, but concerns were expressed that this move does not go far enough to ensure data on food insecurity is regularly monitored and properly scrutinised. Doubts were also expressed over the level of commitment to making this measurement permanent. We consider that it is crucial that levels of food insecurity are properly monitored and understood, so that the policy to address it can be targeted effectively.

78.A number of respondents suggested that there was a distinct lack of Government action at a policy level that deals directly with food insecurity. Dr Loopstra and Dr Reeves from King’s College London suggested that:

“It is not clear what efforts have been made at the policy level to improve food insecurity in the UK. Based on evidence available, it appears that food insecurity is increasing among low income and vulnerable groups, particularly those reliant on benefits. Changes in administration (i.e. through the implementation of Universal Credit), harsher sanctioning penalties, and loss of entitlements have repeatedly been identified as drivers of food bank use. This evidence has not been acted on by the Government.”126

79.The notion that food insecurity does not receive the dedicated attention it required was also echoed by the University of York IKnowFood programme, which suggested that: “the Government continues to see food insecurity as an overseas issue, with DFID the only Department to include them in its Single Departmental Plan.”127 The programme also highlighted that “there is no clear ministerial accountability for combatting food insecurity in the UK.”128

80.There were repeated calls for the Government to strengthen the evidence base on food insecurity to help inform its evaluations of related welfare and health policies. A number of suggestions were made as to how this might be achieved, including:

Monitoring the impact of food insecurity on health in the UK population by linking measures of food insecurity with indicators of dietary health. Dr Loopstra and Dr Reeves suggested that: “measures of food insecurity need to be integrated and maintained in existing health surveys (e.g. National Diet and Nutrition Survey, or the Health Survey for England).”129 Such analysis will be important because it remains unclear why food insecurity leads to hunger for some and obesity among others. When asked whether data from the Family Resources Survey would be examined alongside that from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, Will Quince MP, the Minister for Welfare Delivery at the Department for Work and Pensions said he would: “certainly be looking to sit down with my counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care, because you are right in your suggestion that we would want to compare the two and then look at the evidence.”130 While this is welcome, a more robust mechanism for comparison is essential—an informal Ministerial meeting cannot fully explore the relationships between dietary quality and food insecurity.

A firmer commitment from the Government to robust monitoring of food insecurity over the long-term. Dr Manu Savani from Brunel University London called for: “Robust policy analysis and evaluation that relates food insecurity trends to wider socioeconomic context and reforms.”131 Professor Dominic Harrison called for food insecurity to be elevated to the level of a National Statistic.132 Similarly, Southwark Council called for: “A nationally agreed definition and measure of food security/insecurity that is repeated at regular intervals to pick up on the impact of substantial policy changes.”133

That a food insecurity measurement should be enshrined in legislation. The Labour Hunger Campaign suggested that the Government should: “Enshrine a definition of household food insecurity in law and set government targets to eliminate it.” Amendments were also tabled to the Agriculture Bill, seeking the inclusion of a measurement of food insecurity into the Government’s measurement of food security which would be mandated by that Bill.134

That policy to address food insecurity should be informed by engagement with people with lived experience. Dr Clare Pettinger and Food Plymouth CIC told us that: “there also needs to be more effective consultation and ‘bottom up’ involvement (co-production) with communities with lived experience so that their voices can form part of the policy changing and solutions.”135

That there should be a dedicated section of the Government that deals with food insecurity, with some calling for a minister with accountability for combatting food insecurity in the UK. The University of York IKnowFood programme recommended that the Government: “appoint a minister with responsibility and accountability for combatting food insecurity within the UK.”136

81.There is very limited confidence in the Government’s current approach to monitoring food insecurity. Household food insecurity must be comprehensively and regularly measured, and subject to parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that trends in food insecurity can be linked to wider socioeconomic contexts and reforms and can inform policy making in other areas such as public health and welfare.

82.The relationships between dietary quality and food insecurity must be fully understood. The Government must commit to continuing to run the food insecurity measurement questions currently contained within the Family Resources Survey. To better understand the impacts of food insecurity on diet and related outcomes, the Government must determine how best to collect data on food insecurity and dietary intake in the same individuals.

‘Food poverty’: a misnomer

83.Key to addressing food insecurity was establishing whether it can be addressed separately from issues of poverty or whether food insecurity arises from poverty. We were told, unequivocally, that food insecurity is a direct result—indeed a symptom—of poverty.

84.The evidence was extremely clear on this point. Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group told us that: “Food poverty is just an example of a kind of deprivation that results from a lack of income… in many ways, food poverty is not distinct from other types of poverty.”137 Ms Barnard from the JRF agreed: “food poverty is one symptom of poverty.”138 As we have seen, poverty is characterised by a lack of resources. Generally, hunger is due to this same lack, that of financial ability to purchase sufficient food. Ms Garnham said: “There are a number of people in the UK who lack the income to buy the food they need”.139 Evidence from Exeter Foodbank supported this, citing income as the top driver of food bank use.140

85.A factor of food poverty (food insecurity) that makes it perhaps more visible than other forms of poverty is that, often, the food budget is the only budget which can be reduced—cuts can be made to a food budget that cannot be made to rent or fuel payments. Helen Barnard told us: “It is quite often one of the first things that people on low income start cutting back on or making trades about. Parents start skipping meals.”141 Food insecurity arises quite logically out of a lack of resources and does not exist in isolation from other kinds of poverty. As Ms Barnard said; “Someone skipping meals is also going to be going without all sorts of other things.”142

86.It was made very clear that poverty has a significant impact on those living with it. In relation to food insecurity and health, the key areas to emphasise are:

That poverty prohibits access to resources required for a socially acceptable standard of life;

That poverty affects emotional state, causing feelings of hopelessness and persistent anxiety. The toll of this can reduce the emotional energy available for important aspects of daily life; and

That poverty increases the risk of physical and mental health problems.

87.Some evidence we received was distressing and included details of people living in appalling conditions. We were told of parents skipping meals, lying to children and claiming that they had eaten, and children unable to concentrate at school due to physical feelings of hunger. We heard that effects ranged from debilitating physical feelings of hunger to social isolation, and a decreased ability to concentrate or make decisions. Magic Breakfast indicated some of the effects of hunger upon children: “School age children with severe hunger were more likely to experience stressful life events, had higher parent-reported anxiety scores and were more likely to have behavioural problems than children with no experience of hunger.”143

88.The mental and emotional aspects of poverty were also described to us. Helen Barnard described the effect of poverty as being: “Shut out from normal life.” She said:

“There is [also] very often a sense of there being no way out. We quite often talk about this feeling of hopelessness. One of the parents we work with described it as like being stuck on a hamster wheel: you are running and running but never getting anywhere. You cannot give the kids the things that we know all kids should have to have a good start in life.”144

89.Ms Barnard told us that these pressures could lead to a ‘tunnel vision’ effect: “If you are really anxious and worried about things, you will psychologically focus in on a very small number of crucial things … those things you are focusing on cannot fail.”145 She described this narrowing in focus as a reduced ‘emotional bandwidth’.

90.Exeter foodbank provided us with some quotes from their foodbank users to illustrate what living with food insecurity means for people:

“I am on my own with 2 children and came to the foodbank today because it’s the end of the school holidays. I have a part-time job—my children needed new school uniforms and shoes so we had no money left for food. We never have money for extras.”

“I came to the foodbank today because we had no food, no money and we are in debt. I had an operation and was off work from October until January. I went back to work for a few hours a day and I now work 25 hours a week. While I was off work, I accumulated debt—rent, council tax and water rates. I was down and felt embarrassed about my situation.”

“I’ve been ill for a couple of years and was made redundant due to my long-term sickness. I have really struggled getting help and have become very demoralized and let myself go and stopped caring. A friend forced me to come for help and I feel better being given some food and a friendly ear with a cup of tea.”146

Box 4: Experiences of food insecurity

In a series of phone calls, facilitated by Sustain and Church Action on Poverty, the secretariat spoke with individuals who have experienced food insecurity. Monica from Oxford said:

“Hunger does impact on your mental health and on your tiredness.”

Tia from Blackburn with Darwen said:

“You know everyone’s struggling but you just don’t know how much everyone is struggling because no one wants to talk about it. An older person who is struggling doesn’t want to talk about it because they feel embarrassed or they’re embarrassing their kids. Some people don’t want to talk about it in Darwen because there is such a stigma.”

Source: See Appendix 5.

Hunger and food banks

91.Food banks work largely on a donation basis. People in need of emergency food assistance are given vouchers by care professionals, which can be exchanged for non-perishable food parcels from food banks. Many food banks provide additional support, for example in helping people understand and access the benefits they are entitled to. Our evidence acknowledged the vital role that food banks play, but emphasised strongly that food banks exist to plug a hole in the social security system. Evidence from Blackburn with Darwen Council, for example, stated: “Food banks should have NO role in a 21st century Britain.”147 Dr Dave Beck from the University of Salford suggested that the existence of food banks relieves Government of the responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in society. He said they acted as: “a failsafe for the government so that they can now step-back from their responsibility and hand this provision over to the Big Society of volunteers … a stick-plaster approach”.148 Dr Sinéad Furey described food banks as “successful failures”: successful since they continue to grow, and failures because: “such initiatives distract from the underlying issues of food insecurity”.149

92.Food banks, and food aid organisations in general, agree that there should be no need for them. It is, for instance, the policy of the Trussell Trust—the UK’s largest group of food banks—to put themselves out of business by working together to “challenge the structural economic issues that lock people in poverty, and campaign to end the need for food banks in the UK.”150

Box 5: Experiences of food insecurity

In a series of phone calls, facilitated by Sustain and Church Action on Poverty, the secretariat spoke with individuals who have experienced food insecurity. Penny from Newcastle said:

“It’s also a pride thing. Just because, you know, just because you’ve got no money doesn’t’ mean to say you’ve got no pride.”

Source: See Appendix 5.

Holiday Hunger

93.Witnesses raised concerns about the levels of holiday hunger, when children who would normally receive free school meals during term-time go hungry during the school holidays. We were told that around 3 million children are affected by holiday hunger.151 Garry Lemon of the Trussell Trust explained the reasons behind this:

“When you are on such a low income, that pound or two a day that you are now having to spend on food—which would have been free school meals—can be utterly ruinous to people’s finances when they are already surviving on so little.”152

94.The Government has provided some funding to address the issue of holiday hunger, and in June 2020 it agreed to extend the National Voucher Scheme for the 2020 summer holiday.153 We welcome these interventions and have addressed holiday hunger in greater depth in Chapter Four: Government Food Programmes. It is worth stating, however, that it is not acceptable that for three million children, the only thing standing in the way of hunger is a school meal.

95.Like the use of food banks, the prevalence of hunger during holidays is an indication that some people in this country simply do not have enough money to feed themselves. Food aid organisations, including holiday hunger initiatives do excellent work (and many provide much more than food), but they should not need to exist to ensure that people can eat. We agree with the evidence of the Leeds Food Aid Network which said:

“It brings considerable shame on this country that we are talking about initiatives to address holiday hunger whilst ignoring the fact we live in a system that allows the children of the most vulnerable sectors of our nation to face holiday hunger in the first place … Addressing poverty at its root is the only way to ensure these initiatives, that are either costly or rely on the goodwill of the community, are no longer required.”154

96.The need for charitable food aid is a clear sign that the welfare system is failing to provide adequate support to people in the lowest income groups. The Government should not be reliant on charitable food aid to plug the holes in the welfare system.

Universal Credit and hunger

97.While this report cannot address all of the underlying causes of poverty, one issue was highlighted to us as being very directly linked to people struggling to afford food and recourse to food banks: Universal Credit. Several witnesses referred to Trussell Trust data indicating that food bank use had risen by 48% in areas where Universal Credit had been rolled out for two years.155
We could not ignore these sobering statistics, or the story they told about, in particular, the five-week wait.

98.Recipients of benefits are transferred from the old (legacy) benefits system to Universal Credit (UC) when there is a change in life circumstance. A minimum five-week wait applies before UC is paid to a recipient (UC is paid in arrears, monthly). This wait comprises an assessment period of a full calendar month, after which the pay date will be within seven calendar days. We were told that: “It is not possible to award a universal credit payment as soon as a claim is made, as the assessment period has to run its course before the award of universal credit can be calculated”.156 This choice to pay monthly benefits in arrears was described to us by the Minister for Welfare Delivery, Will Quince MP as being “more akin to the world of work”.157 In April 2017, around 85% of people employees received pay in monthly or four-weekly periods,158 leaving a significant number of workers who would usually receive weekly or fortnightly payments: the “world of work” envisaged by the Department is not necessarily representative of the reality of many people’s working lives.

99.In February 2019, Amber Rudd MP, the-then Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, admitted that the five-week wait may have led to an increased use of foodbanks.159 The Department has since introduced an advance to cover the waiting period, which is deducted from future payments in instalments. The Trussell Trust has described this as presenting a choice between: “destitution now or destitution later. If you take the advance, that money is immediately clawed back out of your already cut and too small universal credit monthly allowance, or you forgo the advance and fall into debt and further poverty until you can bridge that five-week gap.”160 The wait, and the repayment of advances still creates significant problems for the individuals receiving it.

100.Julia Gault told us that people usually begin using food banks after some manner of life crisis.161 Our evidence showed that a five-week wait for UC has often represented this crisis. The Exeter Foodbank stated that many new recipients:

“Simply do not have the financial resilience to cope with the 5 week wait between making a UC claim and receiving first payment. Sadly, a high proportion of these new referrals go on to experience chronic food insecurity and repeated foodbank referrals due to arrears, debts and deductions incurred during the initial waiting period.”162

A volunteer in another food bank told us that: “every single client who has been put on UC stated they are now in more debt than they were before… Most are in debt to family or friends and know that even when they do get paid, their payment won’t be enough to repay their debt.”163 It has also been made clear that foodbanks have often recorded changes or delays to benefits as significant drivers of usage.164

101.We welcome the proposed extension of the repayment period and a reduction on the repayment cap—but these changes are proving insufficient. The Government plans to extend the repayment term for advances from 12 months to 24 months, and that the standard deduction cap will be reduced from 30% to 25%. This change will not take effect until October 2021.165 Minister for Welfare Delivery, Will Quince MP, told us that, in relation to advances, “the repayment of that advance over a 12 month period is currently in the region of £50 per calendar month”.166 He explained that the reduction will further lower this to around £30 per calendar month. For many people, however, £50 per calendar month is a significant amount of money. There is not a “spare” £50, or indeed £30 built into the Universal Credit entitlement: it is likely that people paying this to the Department will be going without something. It is worth noting here that the mean average weekly household spend on food and non-alcoholic drinks is £61.90.167

102.The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into whether UC’s design and objectives reflect the reality of life on low incomes,168 and the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee is undertaking an inquiry into possible alternatives and alterations for the five-week wait.

103.Possible alterations published in advance of the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry include:

Scrapping the five-week wait for all claimants: for example, by making the Advance non-repayable;

Offering non-repayable Advances to some claimants: for example, those considered vulnerable;

Allowing more flexibility for the start of a claim to be backdated;

Extending run on payments to cover all legacy benefits;

Substantially reducing the rate at which Advance Payments—the main existing mitigation measure—are paid back, to help claimants better manage their money; and

Paying UC two-weekly, like many legacy benefits, rather than monthly.169

104.The five-week wait for Universal Credit presents acute difficulties and requires urgent overhaul. While we cannot anticipate the findings of two Parliamentary reports dedicated to this topic, the Government must fully respond to the reports of both Committees. A replacement scheme must have regard to:

The recommendations of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee;

Analysis of the impact of repayments over a period of time on the ability to afford a healthy diet;

The imperative to avoid a situation where a person awaiting benefits has no choice but to visit a food bank;

Analysis of data pertaining to the increase in UC claims following the outbreak of COVID-19;

The possibility that different groups of claimants may require different arrangements for advances and their repayment; and

A continual and effective system of training to help claimants manage their money.

People with no recourse to public funds

105.We were told that people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are particularly vulnerable to hunger. Professor Greta Defeyter, Professor of Psychology at the University of Northumbria, explained that some particularly vulnerable groups were excluded from measurements of food insecurity: “We have thousands of extremely vulnerable children who are entirely excluded from these figures because they are undocumented or have no recourse to public funds.”170 As demonstrated above, the Government has an extremely limited understanding of the scale of food insecurity: the understanding is particularly weak in the case of some of the most vulnerable groups.

106.Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank stated: “EFB’s experience suggests that asylum-seekers, refugees, and others affected by recent changes to habitual residency legislation, are at high risk of prolonged food insecurity.”171 Southwark food bank recorded that in 2017–18, 16% of their referrals were due to a lack of recourse to public funds.172

107.In the case of people with no access to public funds, food banks are sometimes the only means of subsistence. Exeter Foodbank gave an example:

“Between 2013–2019, EFB provided continuous weekly food parcels to a lady and her young son whilst her complex immigration status was resolved. Throughout this period, she had no recourse to public funds and was not allowed to work; her sole source of income was a small subsistence grant of £10 per week from a local charity.

Foodbank parcels, although nutritionally balanced, are not designed for long-term use; they are comprised of pre-dominantly non-perishable foods, and lack variety. Nevertheless, for six years, they remained the primary means through which this family could manage to eat and survive.”173

108.The weeks following the outbreak of COVID-19 saw a number of programmes to distribute food where it was necessary, including the temporary extension of Free School Meal provision to some groups who have no recourse to public funds.174 These programmes demonstrate a public and political will to ensure that everyone can access food.

109.We note that a group of the most vulnerable people, those with no recourse to public funds, are conspicuously absent from policy discussions on food insecurity.

110.We recommend that the Government produce an action plan to ensure that the gathering of data on food insecurity includes and records the situations of those with no recourse to public funds. Urgent planning must begin now to establish a Government-funded programme to ensure that all those with no recourse to public funds are able to access sufficient, nutritious food.

Difficulty accessing a healthy diet

111.Problems of the most severe type of food insecurity: those leading to hunger, were our starting point. Hunger, however, is one end of a spectrum of food insecurity. It is crucial that we understand different aspects of food insecurity, and address the wider issue of access to a healthy diet.

112.Statistics on diet-related ill health, outlined in Chapter 2, demonstrate that there is a serious problem with health inequalities between rich and poor in the UK. This situation is not inevitable; it is, in part, the product of an increased difficulty in accessing a healthy diet for those in the poorest groups. This section identifies the factors that cause this situation. It is distinct from Chapter 4, the Food Environment, which identifies a series of factors which, together, create a deeply unhealthy backdrop for everybody.

113.We were told of the barriers that exist for lower income groups to access a healthy diet, which fall into three broad categories:

The affordability of food. Some research has shown that healthy food is three times as expensive as less healthy food, calorie for calorie. The Government’s guidance on healthy diets—the Eatwell Guide—was said to be unaffordable for many families (including those receiving universal Credit). Healthy food can also carry a higher risk of waste, resulting in a greater financial risk than unhealthier foods.

Practical considerations. We were told that people with lower incomes were sometimes without access to physical cooking equipment, and that there were more likely to be additional inhibitive costs to preparing healthy foods (such as energy costs). We also heard evidence to suggest that for some, accessing food shops was expensive or difficult, as they might have to travel by car or expensive public transport, to avoid this many are limited to small convenience shops where prices can be higher.

‘Emotional bandwidth’. Poverty can place demands and stresses upon individuals and families. The priority for many people is to ensure that there is enough food, meaning that there may be limited available mental energy to make choices and dedicate time and effort to cooking and preparing food which is nutritionally balanced.

114.We were disappointed to note that, when asked about widening health inequalities, although the Government recognised the relevance of the food environment, their answer contained only one mention of disparities and one targeted intervention (Healthy Start Vouchers).175 We feel this demonstrates a lack of Government recognition of the increased difficulty for lower income groups in accessing a healthy diet.

Affordability of healthy diets

115.One question that arose frequently throughout this inquiry was: is food too expensive? There was a clear consensus that, on the contrary, the current price of food does not reflect “the real cost”.176 Henry Dimbleby pointed to a variety of NGO reports identifying the true cost of food as: “anything from 50% more to just a bit more to twice as much, depending on the agenda of the person who has done the report.”177

116.Between April 2018 to March 2019, the mean average household178 spend on food and non-alcoholic drink was £61.90 per week, (see Figures 6 and 7) representing 10.6% of expenditure,179 significantly less than the average spend across all EU countries, which was 12.2%.180 The food consumed in the UK is the cheapest in Western Europe. Indeed, according to the EU statistical body Eurostat, it costs 8% less than the EU average.181

Figure 6: The 13 main categories of average weekly household expenditure, UK, 2018/19

Treemap showing the 13 main categories of average weekly household expenditure, UK, 2018/19

Note: 1.Communications, £21.30, 2. Education, £5.70

Source: Office for National Statistics, Family spending in the UK: April 2018 to March 2019 (19 March 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

Figure 7: Average weekly household expenditure on the 33 main categories of foods, UK, 2018/19

Treempap showing average weekly household expenditure on the 33 main categories of foods, UK, 2018/19

1. Edible ices [lollies] and ice cream: £0.80

7. Sugar and sugar products: £0.40

2. Confectionary products: £0.80

8. Pasta: £0.40

3. Margarine, other vegetable fats and peanut butter: £0.60

9. Cooking oils and fats: £0.30

4. Lamb (fresh, chilled or frozen): £0.60

10. Jams, marmalades: £0.30

5. Other fresh, chilled or frozen fruits: £0.50

11. Preserved fruit and fruit-based products: £0.20

6. Pork (fresh, chilled or frozen): £0.50

12. Dried vegetables: £0.10

Source: Office for National Statistics, Family spending in the UK: April 2018 to March 2019, (19 March 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020] Figure totals £56.60 and excludes £5.30 spent on non-alcoholic drinks.

What is the cost of a healthy diet?

117.Much of our evidence pointed to research suggesting that healthy foods cost more than less healthy foods. Public Health professionals from Blackburn with Darwen Council wrote that: “Calories from healthy foods consistently cost more than those from less healthy foods.”182 Research by the Food Foundation has found that, calorie for calorie, it is three times more expensive to eat a healthy diet than an less healthy diet.183

118.NHS analysis of this report commented that because healthier foods tend to have a much lower energy density than less healthy foods, cost comparison on the basis of calories may not always give a realistic comparison of food you want to buy—a packet of ginger biscuits will give you around the same number of calories as 30 cucumbers.184

The cost of the Eatwell Guide

119.The Government’s guidance on healthy diets is the Eatwell Guide. Issued by Public Health England, the Guide breaks down food into five groups and advises on the proportion of different groups that should be consumed over the course of a day or a week (see figure 8). The five categories are ‘fruit and vegetables’; ‘potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates’; ‘beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins’; ‘dairy and alternatives’ and ‘oils and spreads’. Foods high in fat, salt and sugar are listed separately from the former five categories and should be eaten “less often and in smaller amounts”.185

Figure 8: The Eatwell Guide

Graphic showing examples of food types

Source: NHS, The Eatwell Guide: [accessed 30 June 2020]

120.In its evidence to the Committee, the Government highlighted a study, commissioned by Public Health England that looked at the cost of achieving the Eatwell Guide when it was launched in 2016. The report estimated that the diet would cost £5.99 per adult per day, or £41.93 per week. 186 The report concluded that to achieve the dietary recommendations as set out in the Eatwell Guide “would require large changes in the average diet of UK adults” but “would not lead to significant changes in the price of the diet.”187

121.These findings have been questioned: the report itself acknowledges that its conclusion that there would be no price increase associated with the Eatwell Guide scenario diet was “not generally supported by the literature.” The report is based on a modelled scenario at population level, did not adjust for the popularity of different brands, and did not allow for the cost of preparing products from scratch: “the ‘Eatwell Guide’ scenario is a modelled diet rather than a real healthy diet that is achieved by a subgroup of the population.”188 The Food Foundation’s own analysis of the cost of the Eatwell Guide also referenced this report, and added another important point—the estimated cost of £41.93 a week is: “calculated on a per portion basis (for example, the cost of a single portion of bread) rather than how much a person would need to spend to buy the food in question.”189

122.The Food Foundation’s assessment of the cost and affordability of the Eatwell Guide involved an analysis of the Living Costs and Food Survey and the Family Resources survey, and considered the estimated cost of an ‘Eatwell’ diet: “in relation to UK household expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks, and to disposable household income.”190 The Food Foundation estimate of the weekly Eatwell cost per household was determined based on household composition.191. The analysis calculated that only 53% of households spent at least enough to follow the Government’s Eatwell guidance.192 The report also stated that: “the poorest decile of UK households would need to spend 74% of their after-housing disposable income on food to meet the cost of the Eatwell Guide compared to just 6% in the richest decile.”193 The Food Foundation’s findings suggests that the Government should seek a fuller understanding of whether its dietary guidance is affordable.

123.Evidence from advocacy groups and food banks argued that meeting the costs of the Government’s Eatwell guidance was unrealistic for many. Nourish Scotland, for example argued that following the Eatwell guide would bring “significant opportunity costs.”194

124.For many in low income groups, meeting the costs of the Eatwell Guide is unrealistic. Given the sizeable proportion of disposable income that many in lower income groups would have to spend to meet the recommendations of the Eatwell Guide, it is wholly unsurprising that so few people are doing so.

125.The Food Foundation argued that any approach to formulating an overarching strategy for the food system must be underpinned by an accurate understanding of what a healthy and sustainable diet is and what it costs. Evidence from the Food Foundation, LSHTM and SHEFS argued that the government’s dietary guidelines, and its assessment of what a healthy, sustainable diet costs, should be given a legal status and should be updated annually. It was suggested that this could have two key outcomes:

(a)That a fuller understanding of the cost of healthy, sustainable diets could be used as a reference point for other government interventions. It was suggested, for example, that the cost of diet could be factored into calculations in other policy areas, such as calculating welfare payments, the level of the minimum wage, school meal provision, or hospital food, for example.195

(b)By having a clear vision of what a healthy and sustainable diet is, it was suggested that the Government could set standardised health and sustainability targets and require business to report against them, using this data to drive improvements and cross-government action in a multitude of areas.196

Anna Taylor, Executive Director at the Food Foundation, explained that:

“ … we must have a notion of what a healthy and sustainable diet is and what it costs. That, in turn, should feed through to other areas of government intervention.”

“You would then ensure that the budget that you are allocating to school meals makes reference to the fact that you have that in place. You would make sure that your public procurement of food across the piece made reference to that. You would think about it in respect of minimum wage levels and, therefore, the cost of diet in relation to the cost of living. In other words, you create a reference point against which it feeds through to other areas of policy. Similarly, of course, you would make sure that benefit levels were sufficient to cover the cost of eating a healthy diet. At the moment, we have gross discrepancies, particularly for the poorest 20% of the population, where it becomes extremely difficult to afford a healthy diet. We need something in place to protect those households, in particular.”197

126.We were convinced by the argument that the Government needs a reference point to use to co-ordinate its approach to ensuring everyone has access to a healthy and sustainable diet, and to ensure that this aim is embedded into related policy decisions.

127.The Government should be fully aware of the cost of eating the diet it recommends, and the ability of different demographic groups to access this diet. To underpin any national food strategy, the Government must, in its 2021 review of benefits rates, commit to giving its dietary guidance—the Eatwell Guide—a firm place in the development of policy.

128.Written evidence from the Government stated that income-related benefit rates: “Derive from a review in the 1980s”198 rather than being based on a “single mathematical calculation or historic set of rules.”199 This means that benefits are not based on an understanding of how much things cost or a representative household budget. Julia Gault confirmed this and stated that: “we do not say, ‘We are assuming you are going to spend this much money on food and this much money on other things’”.200

129.Given the enormous economic cost to the NHS and wider society of failing to encourage healthy diets, we find it puzzling that the Eatwell Guide is not used by the Government in the calculation of benefit payment rates. Ensuring that the large (and, recently, dramatically increasing) number of people in receipt of universal credit are able to afford a healthy diet could be a sensible economic step. If the benefits system does not take account of the cost of a healthy diet; it is not clear how households receiving Universal Credit can achieve it.

130.We accept the premise that the benefits system must not prescribe how people budget their money. Household spend is a matter for individual households to decide. It is also clear that cost is not the sole issue in access to a healthy diet: many households who can afford to consume according to the Eatwell Guide do not do so. There is no guarantee that a rise in benefit rates to incorporate the cost of a healthy diet would result in households deciding to spend it on healthy food. However, in order for households to meet the Eatwell recommendations, they have to be able to afford it.

131.The Eatwell Guide is, as the name suggests, guidance. It is not included, for example, in calculations on social policy. The Eatwell Guide is currently nothing more than an aspiration; and as a nation, we are comprehensively failing to reach it. Anna Taylor argued strongly for: “a set of metrics in law against which we track national progress that embed the Eatwell Guide within them.”201 She argued that embedding the Eatwell Guide in social policy, including in the benefits system, would provide some protection to the poorest families.

132.The Government should embed consideration of the cost of the Eatwell Guide into calculations of benefit payment rates.

133.We recommend that the Government should undertake a fuller assessment of the cost of a healthy and sustainable diet. The cost of the Government’s dietary guidance should be built in as a reference point to consideration of government interventions, including those relating to welfare and public food provision.

Risks and priorities

134.One element of the cost of food for families that is sometimes forgotten is the element of financial risk involved in purchasing healthier food. Put simply, it is financially dangerous to buy something “healthier” that family members may not eat; it may be wasted, and you may have to buy something to replace it. Healthier food may also go out of date more quickly.

135.We heard repeatedly that unfamiliar food can hold an inhibitive financial risk. It can be much safer to purchase less healthy foods which will be eaten, and will leave the consumer feeling full. Dr Christina Vogel, Principal Research Fellow in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Southampton, told us that women she had surveyed on lower incomes: “Often have to go through a whole lot of wastage before they even get to the point where their children will eat it, so they much prefer to buy things that they know their children will eat.”202 This approach is a sensible financial decision, ensuring that money is not wasted on food that will not be eaten.

136.Aversion to food waste is necessary on a small budget. Tom Andrews, Programme Manager at Sustainable Food Cities pointed out that many less healthy products are more processed and have a longer shelf life. He described people on a low budget as being: “often worried about wasting food, so they want to buy things that they can use and keep for a long period”.203

137.For many, the priority is to ensure that they and their families feel full when they have eaten. Helen Barnard described a hierarchy of needs pyramid for food: “The first thing you need from food is the feeling of fullness. On top of that you put health and energy and so on.”204

138.We received some evidence that suggested that less healthy foods were considered to be more filling. Dr David Beck described a perception that fruit and vegetables are seen as: “less filling and more expensive when compared with a high sugar alternative which is nutritionally less dense and carries empty calories.”205 Evidence from the Food Foundation, LSHTM and SHEFS explained that this led to people purchasing: “food that will be filling rather than nutritional. Families will be more likely to purchase foods that they know their children will eat, that are convenient and where there will be minimal food waste.”206 After all: “If you only have £5 to feed your family, you cannot risk trying another product (like a vegetable) in case children won’t eat it—what will you then feed them? When faced with hunger, food becomes about being the most filling, not the most nutritious.”207

139.Leeds Food Aid Network raised a final, social element that we found compelling: that buying tasty food can be one of few options to make children happy. “Parents living on low income talk about giving their children rewarding foods is often the only nice thing they can do for their children.”208 The low price of some delicious food such as pastries, deep fried chicken, cakes or sugary drinks is much more financially realistic than many other, non-food items that children ask for.

140.For many, particularly those in the lowest income groups, food choices are about whether they will produce a feeling of being satiated. Choices made by people in lower income groups to prioritise food that is reliably satiating and prevents waste over a nutritionally balanced diet should be understood as a reasonable response to the economic reality they face.

Practical barriers to accessing a healthy diet

141.Difficulties in producing healthy diets are not limited to the price of food. For people in lower income groups, considerations such as equipment, energy costs, limited space to store bulk purchases, and the cost of travelling to cheaper shops are very real barriers to consuming healthy diets.

142.Some people on lower incomes do not have the physical cooking equipment needed to produce nutritious food. Helen Barnard explained that some people may not have access to practical things required to provide healthy meals such as fridges or ovens.209 Bags of Taste explained that even when these are present they may not work very well, and described the difficulty of lacking other equipment such as pans and knives.210 Exeter Foodbank outlined the example of a woman in emergency social housing who did not have access to a fridge or freezer, microwave, saucepans or basic kitchen crockery: “Although a keen, competent cook, she was unable to prepare fresh, cooked meals for her young family; they had been surviving on predominantly cold packaged food until signposted to a local charity for further help.”211

143.Some local authorities provide support in obtaining white goods or kitchen equipment through grants or loans. When available, these schemes can be limited: the woman in the above example from Exeter Foodbank was only eligible for assistance to obtain one white goods item.212 Clearly, a lack of access to these items, or concern about using shared facilities in shared accommodation will significantly increase the appeal of pre-prepared food.

144.Fuel costs were repeatedly mentioned as a deterrent for cooking. Helen Barnard pointed to the ‘poverty premium’, telling us that energy can cost more if on a pre-payment meter.213 Exeter Foodbank also told us that many of their clients have been cut off from their energy supply: “We frequently see people, particularly those on energy meters, whose gas/electricity supply has been cut off entirely.”214

145.Evidence from Bags of Taste explained that space can be an issue; a lack of space to store bulk purchases which tend to be cheaper reduces the opportunity to use economies of scale with food shopping.215 A lack of space means you have to buy smaller and usually more expensive quantities of food.

146.Bags of Taste also pointed out that: “If you don’t have a car, carrying shopping for a week or for a family is hard and even if public transport is available and affordable (which it often isn’t) it requires you to shop little and often.”216 Travelling several times per week to shops therefore requires a higher time investment for those on a lower income, and, again, results in smaller quantities being purchased and therefore fewer savings. There is also, of course, the cost of the transport.

147.By themselves, none of these difficulties are necessarily insurmountable, but together they make the processes of purchasing and preparing food much more difficult and less rewarding. Arguably, very few of these barriers apply for those on higher incomes.

‘Emotional bandwidth’

148.The impact of food insecurity on emotional wellbeing and mental health was emphasised by our evidence. Birmingham Food Council CIC told us that: “Some costs are intangible, including those related to pain and suffering, poor quality of life and emotional distress.”217 The emotional impact of food insecurity was echoed by other contributors and is also supported by academic research. A Cambridge University study found that there was a “persisting association between high self-reported stress … specific to [food insecurity], over and above socio-economic deprivation.”218

149.We were told that poverty can reduce ‘emotional bandwidth’ rendering it incredibly difficult to focus past immediate needs. Helen Barnard explained further:

“Living in constant anxiety about money affects the way that you think about everything else. There is a tunnel vision that people get: if you are really anxious and worried about things, you will psychologically focus in on a very small number of crucial things, such as keeping a roof over your head or wanting your kids to go to bed feeling full. There is some psychological research where they tested out inducing anxiety and seeing what it did to decision making—and what it does is narrow your focus because those things that you are focusing on cannot fail. It also reduces the bandwidth that you have to be able to look across lots of different options and start trading them off.”219

Exeter Foodbank told us that:

“[many people accessing foodbanks] are in crises (including relationship breakdown, redundancy, insecure accommodation, acute financial need or chronic ill health) which place their emotional and mental resources under strain. Under such stressful conditions, many lack sufficient capacity to acquire new skills or consider making long-term lifestyle changes; all available energies centre on addressing much more urgent, survival issues at hand. Eating can become low priority—a mere necessity for survival—to be completed with as minimal mental input as possible. Again, these factors increase the appeal of familiar, ready-prepared and nutritionally limited food items.220

150.There are a series of hurdles to overcome to access a healthy diet. These hurdles are particular to lower income groups, and their combined effect means that it is significantly harder for people with a lower income to access a healthy diet. The current food system requires much more of people with fewer resources.

151.We accept that it is possible to eat healthily on a tight budget. One can, for example, buy a variety of vegetables and prepare soup for very little. However, posing this as a solution misses the point: there are many difficulties involved in preparing healthy, nutritious meals, particularly for those on the lowest incomes. We have synthesised the evidence we received on these practical difficulties into an imagined scenario, to demonstrate why this is not as easy a solution as it may seem.

Box 6: Why don’t people just make soup?

The person following well-meant advice to prepare vegetable soup may, first, have to persuade the family that the dish will be enjoyable.

A person following this advice may look up a recipe. They may not have access to recipe books, so spend time looking at internet recipes, which can be fairly inaccessible.

There are new ingredients in the recipe, such as stock and possibly flavourings which the person would have to purchase. With a more complicated recipe, some ingredients may not be available in the local shop. Having spent time discovering this, the person may have to go to a different shop further away, taking longer, and possibly incurring transport costs.

If the ingredients are available in the local shop, these ingredients are likely only to be available in small quantities (thus decreasing the value for money). We were told that the cost of the ingredients of a new meal without a “middle class store cupboard” was estimated at £15.221

While looking for perhaps unfamiliar ingredients, the person shopping will have to ignore other temptingly displayed options, or price promotions. These are likely to be less healthy foods, but foods that the family may have tried before. If shopping with children, the person may have to ignore “pester power”.

The kitchen equipment required for the recipe (weighing scales, knives, peelers, ovens, stoves) may be unavailable or inadequate, making the process more difficult or perhaps impossible.

Following a new recipe, particularly if not familiar with cooking generally, can be stressful and time-consuming.

If the soup goes wrong, is unpopular with the rest of the household, or simply doesn’t taste good, the household may want to eat something else. Thus, two meals have been paid for and the time, money and energy spent on the original meal has been wasted. The remaining ingredients may also go to waste. Hungry children or growing teenagers may not feel full having eaten soup, so may want to eat something else.

Separately, these difficulties are not insurmountable. Combined, however, they represent a real barrier to accessing a healthy diet. When there are so many easy, cheap and reliable alternatives available, this process is a distinctly unappealing proposition.

84 Written evidence from Dr Sinéad Furey (ZFP0019)

85 Environmental Audit Committee, Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK (Thirteenth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 1491)

86 Social Metrics Commission, Social Metrics Commission 2018 Report (September 2018): [accessed 30 June 2020]. The Social Metrics Commission was established in 2016 to determine a new series of poverty metrics to better reflect the reality of poverty in the UK.

87 Q 31 (Helen Barnard)

88 Ibid.

89 Q 32 (Garry Lemon)

90 Ibid.

91 There appears to be no statistical basis to this ‘base year’, which is only occasionally reviewed.

92 House of Commons Library, Poverty in the UK: statistics, Briefing Paper, Number 7096, 29 April 2020

93 Ibid. For the purposes of the data, a ‘child’ is an individual aged under 16 or one aged 16 to 19 years old who is not married, in a civil partnership nor living with a partner, living with parents/a responsible adult and in full-time non-advanced education or in unwaged government training.

94 House of Commons Library, Poverty in the UK: statistics, Briefing Paper, Number 7096, 29 April 2020

95 Which estimate how the incomes of different households would evolve up to 2021–22. Estimates are based on if current tax and benefit policy plans are kept to and if the macroeconomic forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsibility—for things such as earnings and employment—were correct.

96 Institute for Fiscal Studies, Living Standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2017–18 to 2021–2022 (November 2017): [accessed 30 June 2020]

97 House of Commons Library, Poverty in the UK: statistics, Briefing Paper, Number 7096, 29 April 2020

98 Q 32 (Alison Garnham) Ms Garnham was giving evidence in October 2019, at which time the number of children known to be in relative low income after housing costs was 4.1 million. Based on 2018/19 figures this has risen further, to 4.2 million.

99 Q 32 (Alison Garnham)

100 BBC, Coronavirus: World Bank warns 60m at risk of “extreme poverty”, (20 May 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

101 House of Commons Library, Coronavirus: Impact on the Labour market, Briefing Paper Number 8898, 30 April 2020

102 BBC, Bank of England warns of sharpest recession on record, (7 May 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

103 Oral evidence taken before the Economic Affairs Committee, Tuesday 19 May (Session 2019–2021) Q 1 (The Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak MP)

104 The Food Foundation, New Food Foundation Survey: three million Britons are going hungry just three weeks into lockdown, (April 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

105 HC Debate, 4 May 2020, cols 421-424

106 House of Commons Library, Coronavirus: Impact on the Labour market, Briefing Paper Number 8898, 30 April 2020

107 Evidence and Network on UK Household Food Insecurity, Too poor to eat: Food insecurity in the UK (May 2016): [accessed 30 June 2020]

108 As outlined in paragraph 73, the Government will include new questions on food insecurity in the Family Resources Survey. Data will not be available until 2021.

109 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World, Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition (2018), p 138: [accessed 29 June 2020]

110 Environmental Audit Committee, Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK (Thirteenth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 1491)

111 Food Standards Agency, The Food and You Survey, Wave 5, (2019): [accessed 30 June 2020]. Wave 5 data collected between June and November 2018. This survey is a repeated cross-sectional study run by the Food Standards Agency based on 2,241 interviews from a representative multi-stage stratified random sample of adults across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

112 The Trussell Trust, End of Year Stats: [accessed 30 June 2020]

113 Written evidence from the Food Foundation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Sustainable and Healthy food Systems (SHEFS) (ZFP0073)

114 The Food Foundation, New Food Foundation Survey: Three million Britons are going hungry just three weeks into lockdown (April 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]. Food Foundation figures based on online survey that it commissioned YouGov Plc to undertake. The Food Foundation states that: Total sample size was 4,343 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7– 9 April 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The Food Foundation states that its calculations were made using mid-year population estimates.

115 The Trussell Trust, Food banks report record spike in need as coalition of anti-poverty charities call for strong lifeline to be thrown to anyone who needs it (1 May 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

116 ‘“Hunger Queues” and use of food banks on the rise as Spain struggles to recover from coronavirus’, The Independent (28 May 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020] and BBC News, Coronavirus: Lockdown bites poor as France eases grip (7 May 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

117 ‘Italy sets aside €400m for food vouchers as social unrest mounts’, The Guardian (31 March 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

118 An annual report that provides facts and figures about the incomes and living circumstances of households and families in the UK.

119 Written evidence from HM Government (ZFP0079)

120 Food Insecurity Bill [Bill 136 (2017–19)]

121 Written evidence from HM Government (ZFP0079)

122 Ibid. The Food Security Assessment is an analysis of six separate themes of food security, one of which is household food insecurity. It draws from a range of national and international indicators.

123 Q 21 (Lord Krebs)

124 Q 21 (Julia Gault)

125 The Family Resources survey is an annual publication which collects information on income and living conditions from a representative sample of private UK households

126 Written evidence from Dr Loopstra and Dr Reeves (ZFP0065)

127 Written evidence from the University of York IKnowFood programme (ZFP0040)

128 Ibid.

129 Written evidence from Dr Loopstra and Dr Reeves (ZFP0065)

130 Q 128 (Will Quince MP)

131 Written evidence from Dr Manu Savani (ZFP0070)

132 Written evidence from Professor Dominic Harrison (ZFP0027)

133 Written evidence from Southwark Council (ZFP0024)

134 Amendment, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck .The Agriculture Bill includes a requirement for the Government to measure and report on UK food security. In this case food security refers to availability, supply sources, supply chain resilience, household expenditure on food, food safety and consumer confidence in food. The proposed amendment would have required the Government to measure food insecurity: “a person’s state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

135 Written evidence from Dr Clare Pettinger and Food Plymouth CIC (ZFP0033)

136 Written evidence from the University of York IKnowFood Programme (ZFP0040)

137 Q 31 (Alison Garnham)

138 Q 31 (Helen Barnard)

139 Q 31 (Alison Garnham)

140 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

141 Q 31 (Helen Barnard)

142 Ibid.

143 Written evidence from Magic Breakfast (ZFP0076)

144 Q 37 (Helen Barnard)

145 Q 40 (Helen Barnard)

146 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

147 Written evidence from Professor Dominic Harrison and Emma Savage (ZFP0027)

148 Written evidence from Dr Dave Beck (ZFP0001)

149 Written evidence from Dr Sinéad Furey (ZFP0019)

150 The Trussell Trust, What we do: [accessed 30 June 2020]

151 Q 42 (Alysa Remtulla), written evidence from the Food Foundation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) (ZFP0073) and written evidence from Church Action on Poverty, The Food Foundation, The Independent Food Aid Network, Nourish Scotland, Oxfam GB and Sustain (ZFP0031)

152 Q 35 (Garry Lemon)

153 Department for Education, Guidance: COVID Summer Food Fund (30 June 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

154 Written evidence from the Leeds Food Aid Network (ZFP0018)

155 The Trussell Trust, Universal Credit and Food Banks: [accessed 30 June 2020]. See also written evidence from the Leeds Food Aid Network (ZFP0018)..

156 Q 129 (Will Quince MP)

157 Ibid.

158 Office for National Statistics, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE): Proportion of all employee jobs with weekly, fortnightly, four weekly and monthly pay periods, UK, April 2017: (November 2017):
dworking hours/adhocs/007746annualsurveyofhoursandearningsasheproportionofallemployee jobswithweeklyfortnightlyfourweeklyandmonthlypayperiodsukapril2017
[accessed 30 June 2020]

159 HC Deb, 11 February 2019, col 594

160 Q 33 (Garry Lemon)

161 Q 26 (Julia Gault)

162 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

163 Written evidence from Church Action on Poverty, Food Foundation, the Independent Food Aid Network, Nourish Scotland, Oxfam GB, and Sustain (ZFP0031)

164 Written evidence from Dr Bowe, Dr Wakefield, and Nottingham Civic Exchange (ZFP0078) and Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (ZFP0053)

165 Supplementary written evidence from HM Government (ZFP0098)

166 Q 129 (Will Quince MP)

167 Office for National Statistics, Family spending in the UK: April 2018 to March 2019: [accessed 30 June 2020]. Mean average weekly spend equal to the total reported weekly expenditure of households divided by the number of households.

168 Economic Affairs Committee, ‘The economics of Universal Credit inquiry’: [accessed 30 June 2020]

169 Work and Pensions Committee, ‘Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment’, : [accessed 30 June 2020]

170 Q 38 (Professor Greta Defeyter)

171 Written Evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

172 Written evidence from Cllr Evelyn Akoto, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Public Health, Southwark Council (ZFP0024)

173 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

174 Department for Education, Coronavirus (COVID-19): free school meals guidance for schools (April 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

175 Supplementary written evidence from HM Government (ZFP0098)

176 Q 76 (Professor Andrew Balmford)

177 Q 104 (Henry Dimbleby)

178 Data from the Living Costs and Food Survey which is a sample survey of private household’s expenditure. Figures provided are mean averages of expenditure (equal to the total weekly expenditure of households divided by the number of households). As the number of individuals in households differs, the data does not represent ‘an average household’. (The mean average number of individuals in a household is 2.37). Office for National Statistics, Dataset: Families and Households, (15 November 2019): [accessed 30 June 2020]

179 Office for National Statistics, Family spending in the UK: April 2018 to March 2019, (19 March 2020): [accessed 30 June 2020]

180 European Commission, How much are households spending on food?, (December 2018): [accessed 30 June 2020]

181 Eurostat, File: Table 1 Price level indices for food, beverages and tobacco, 2017:,_beverages_and_tobacco,_2017_(EU-28%3D100).png [accessed 30 June 2020]

182 Written evidence from Professor Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health and Emma Savage, Speciality Registrar in Public Health, Blackburn with Darwen Council (ZFP0027)

183 The Food Foundation, Affordability of the UK’s Eatwell Guide (September 2018): [accessed 30 June 2020]

184 NHS, ‘Healthy foods expensive’ claim is unrealistic’, (October 2014): [accessed 30 June 2020]

185 NHS, The Eatwell Guide: [accessed 30 June 2020]

186 Peter Scarborough, Asha Kaur, et al., ‘Eatwell Guide: modelling the dietary and cost implications of incorporating new sugar and fibre guidelines’, British Medical Journal Open, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016013182 (November 2016):

187 Ibid.

188 Ibid.

189 The Food Foundation, Affordability of the UK’s Eatwell Guide, (September 2018) p 5: [accessed 30 June 2020]

190 Written evidence from the Food Foundation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) (ZFP0073)

191 The Food Foundation, Affordability of the UK’s Eatwell Guide, (September 2018): [accessed 30 June 2020]

192 Ibid.

193 Written evidence from the Food Foundation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) (ZFP0073)

194 Written evidence from Nourish Scotland (ZFP0064)

195 Written evidence from the Food Foundation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) (ZFP0073)

196 Ibid.

197 Q 2 (Anna Taylor)

198 Supplementary written evidence from HM Government (ZFP0098)

199 Ibid.

200 Q 23 (Julia Gault)

201 Q 8 (Anna Taylor)

202 Q 13 (Dr Christina Vogel)

203 Q 46 (Tom Andrews)

204 Q 34 (Helen Barnard)

205 Written evidence from Dr Dave Beck (ZFP0001)

206 Written evidence from the Food Foundation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) (ZFP0073)

207 Written evidence from Bags of Taste (ZFP0029)

208 Written evidence from Leeds Food Aid Network (ZFP0018)

209 Q 34 (Helen Barnard)

210 Written evidence from Bags of Taste (ZFP0029)

211 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

212 Ibid.

213 Q 34 (Helen Barnard)

214 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

215 Written evidence from Bags of Taste (ZFP0029)

216 Ibid.

217 Written evidence from Birmingham Food Council CIC (ZFP0057)

218 Amy Yau, Martin White, et al; ‘Socio-demographic characteristics, diet and health among food insecure UK adults: Cross-sectional analysis of the International Food Policy Study’,. Public Health Nutrition, 1-13. doi:10.1017/S1368980020000087 (27 April 2020):

219 Q 34 (Helen Barnard)

220 Written evidence from Exeter Foodbank (ZFP0059)

221 Written evidence from Bags of Taste (ZFP0029)

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