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Food poverty

Food poverty means that an individual or household isn’t able to obtain healthy, nutritious food, or can’t access the food they would like to eat. Despite increasing choice and affordability of food in the UK, many people eat what they can afford, not what they want.

This often results in people eating poor diets, which can lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer, as well as inadequate levels of many vitamins and minerals. Obesity is now as much a sign of poverty in the rich countries, as hunger is in poor countries.

Food poverty and economic poverty are linked. Rent, tax and debts are fixed costs; food is the ‘flexible’ budget item, and families and individuals pay the price.

Poor children suffer from lower nutrient intake, bad dietary patterns, hunger, low fruit and vegetable consumption and problems accessing food in school holidays.

A 2014 report by Oxfam UK, the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty revealed that over 20 million meals were provided in 2013 to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves - a 54% increase on the previous 12 months. An estimated 4.7 million people were living in severely food insecure homes in 2014, according to the FAO.

Claims and counter-claims abound over the reasons for increasing levels of household food insecurity in the UK, but we know that driving factors include growing indebtedness, low incomes (below the real living wage) and the lack of a proper safety net. These need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The government has a responsibility to identify and address the structural inequalities in household income and access to food that contribute to food poverty. Minimum wage and benefit levels should be sufficient to ensure that all households have a living income, not merely a survival income. And food retailers should proactively seek to ensure that that the healthiest foods are affordable and accessible to all.

In 2013 the Food Ethics Council and the University of Warwick undertook a research project for the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs to arrive at a better understanding of the 'food aid' landscape in the UK and the 'at risk' individuals who access such provision, as well as the means and drivers for seeking access.

Download report.