THE social-security system in the UK is failing to protect millions of people from going hungry, the Trussell Trust has warned.
In its latest report, the Christian charity, which has a network of 1300 foodbanks across the country, finds that 14 per cent of UK households — half of which include children — experienced some form of food insecurity in the year to mid-2022. Seven per cent made use of foodbanks.
Long-term austerity is leading to social isolation and loneliness, spiralling debt, and a decline in physical and mental health, the Trust says — disproportionately so among disabled people, carers, parents, ethnic-minority communities, and LGBTQ+ people.
Published at the end of June, the report, Hunger in the UK, is based on a survey of 2563 people who had been referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks in May and August 2022, as well as a general-population survey of 3948 people carried out by Ipsos in the same period. It also draws on interviews and group workshops with foodbank users.
Analysis of data in the report finds that one in seven UK adults or their households (14 per cent) experienced food insecurity in the 12 months to mid-2022. “This means that — at some point over this period — they have run out of food and been unable to afford more, and/or reduced meal size, eaten less, gone hungry or lost weight due to lack of money,” it explains.
This, the report says, equates to 11.3 million people, almost half of whom (47 per cent) are part of households including children.
Proportions of food insecurity are similar across England (14 per cent), Northern Ireland (16 per cent), and Scotland (17 per cent) — but Wales is significantly higher (20 per cent). Within England, the north-east had the highest rate (26 per cent).
Seven per cent of UK households — equivalent to 5.7 million people — made use of foodbanks, pantries, or social supermarkets to get by, the report says. But more than two-thirds (71 per cent) of the people who experienced food insecurity, including hunger, said that they had not used any form of food aid in the past year.
One infrequent user reported: “I was telling myself, there are people in a worse situation than me; so I call them [the foodbank] . . . if I’m in a desperate, desperate situation.”
Almost three million food parcels were distributed by the Trussell Trust between April 2022 and March 2023 — more than one million of which were for children. This has increased, year on year, since 2017.
The Trust also reports that certain population groups are more at risk of food poverty than others. Of the survey respondents who had been referred to its network of foodbanks, three-quarters (75 per cent) reported that either they (69 per cent) or a person in their household were disabled.
This is disproportionate to both the number of disabled people in the UK population (26 per cent) and general levels of food insecurity.
This is also the case with single adults living with children, who make up just three per cent of the UK population — but 11 per cent of people who reported being food insecure.
Almost one quarter (24 per cent) of the people from an ethnic-minority group experienced food insecurity — almost twice the rate (13 per cent) for white people. More than one quarter (27 per cent) of the LGBTQ+ people also experienced food insecurity, while the figure for heterosexual people was 13 per cent, the Trust reports.
Similarly, 23 per cent of unpaid carers were food insecure, against 12 per cent of non-carers.
Almost one quarter of the people referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks reported experiencing “severe” social isolation. One disabled man (aged 44 to 55) who was interviewed for the report, said: “Getting lonely, very lonely, fed up. Thinking I’ve worked hard all my life for this. And we’ve got nothing.”
More than one third of renters (35 per cent) reported experiencing food poverty, rising to 45 per cent of people living in socially rented housing. This compares with six per cent of people who had a mortgage.
More generally, people experiencing food insecurity were more than twice as likely to have experienced adverse events (such as bereavement, becoming sick or disabled, or domestic abuse) than people who were food secure (49 per cent v. 23 per cent). These experiences were even more likely for people who had been referred to foodbanks (66 per cent).
The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said: “Being forced to turn to a foodbank to feed your family is a horrifying reality for too many people in the UK, but as Hunger in the UK shows, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Millions more people are struggling with hunger. This is not right.
“Foodbanks are not the answer when people are going without the essentials in one of the richest economies in the world. We need a social-security system which provides protection and the dignity for people to cover their own essentials, such as food and bills.”
She concluded: “Nobody in the UK should face hunger. That is why research like this is so vital. It provides the evidence we need to be able to change systems, policies, and practices, so that no one is left unable to afford the essentials.”