The United Kingdom is a long established world power with the sixth largest economy in the world. Therefore, these top 10 facts about hunger in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland may surprise many, as the U.K. suffers from a hidden hunger crisis. While hunger was a concern following World War II, it has since fallen off the political radar as economic conditions have improved. Following the 2008 global financial crisis, however, rising food bank usage and hospital admissions, as a result of malnutrition, have brought the topic of food security back into the public eye.
Top 10 Facts About Hunger in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) found that almost 8.4 million U.K. citizens suffer from food insecurity. This means that a significant amount of the population (equivalent to the size of London) experiences hunger daily or are unable to sufficiently feed themselves and their family. As of 2014, the U.K. ranks in the bottom half of the European countries with 10 percent of the population struggling with food insecurity.
- More than half of those suffering from food insecurity (4.7 million people) are classified as severely food insecure, sometimes going an entire day without any food at all. This disproportionately affects women because women are more likely to provide childcare than men. Single parents are twice as likely to live in poverty and suffer from food insecurity, and 89 percent of single parents are women.
- According to the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, food bank usage continues to increase annually (26,000 people in the 2008/09 financial year vs. 128,697 in 2013/12). Low income, debt and universal credit are key factors attributing to this trend. Data suggests that the hunger level may be 17 times higher than estimated by the Trussell Trust because many afflicted people do not have access to food banks.
- The main reason for referral to a Trussell Trust food bank is a delay in benefit payments. Combined, benefit delays and benefit changes (the 3rd most common reason for referral) make up 42 percent of all food bank referrals in the U.K. Improvement of the benefits system would, therefore, significantly reduce the number of people reliant on food banks and alleviate food insecurity overall.
- The average U.K. citizen spends 20 percent more on food than they were five years ago, but consuming 7 percent less. Household incomes are declining while food prices continue to increase, which forces families to purchase less food out of financial necessity. Increased food prices also spark malnutrition, due to the lack of affordability of healthy options, which tend to be more expensive.
- The long-term health consequences associated with food insecurity will impact the economy and increase costs for healthcare systems in the U.K. Cheaper food options tend to be high in calories but lack nutrients, putting those living with food insecurity at a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. Additionally, growing up in a household without sufficient access to food can negatively impact child development and mental health.
- The U.K. wastes 1.9 million tons of food and drinks each year, over half of which (1.1mt) is avoidable. Surplus food occurs at every level of the food chain: overproduction at the farming stage, incorrect labeling during processing and manufacturing, and short shelf life for wholesale and retail. Redirecting food waste would save almost £1.9 billion ($2.5 billion) and could be used to feed the hungry, either directly or indirectly through repurposing the excess food as animal feed.
- The U.K. has committed to help alleviate global hunger through projects such as the Millennium Development Goals, the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, Voices of the Hungry and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. However, the government does not regularly or comprehensively measure national food security. Therefore, decision-makers are unaware of the depth of the domestic hunger crisis. Parliament currently has the Food Insecurity Measurement bill, which focuses on starting a program to collect data on food insecurity throughout the U.K.
- End Hunger U.K. is a coalition of food poverty organizations aimed at raising awareness for food insecurity to incentivize change. They have teamed up with Emma Lewell-Buck, author of the Food Insecurity Measurement bill, to add a validated survey method (the U.N. Food Insecurity Experience Survey or the USDA Food Insecurity Assessment) to existing government household surveys. This bill is now supported by more than 150 cross-party MPs and is set to be read in Parliament at the end of October.
- Individuals can increase pressure on the government to reduce hunger in the U.K. by reaching out to their government officials in support of the legislation, such as the Food Insecurity Measurement bill. Additionally, they can volunteer their time at a food bank or an organization that advocates for food security.
These top 10 facts about hunger in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are a glimpse into an issue beginning to gain traction in the media and at the government level. Efforts to collect more data will shed light on the extent of food insecurity in the U.K. and allow policymakers to create an informed solution to the problem.
– Georgia Orenstein