Having access to nutritious food is a fundamental human right. But even in a wealthy country like Britain, parents are skipping meals so that their children can eat and huge numbers are turning to food banks just to put dinner on the table.
A new survey from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has confirmed the extent to which those on low incomes struggle to access the food they need. The Food and You report, which is carried out biennially by the FSA to monitor consumer behaviour, surveyed a representative sample of 3,000 UK adults. It revealed that one in four poor households did not eat regularly or healthily due to a lack of money.
When defining food security as as "having access at all times to enough food that is both sufficiently varied and culturally appropriate to sustain an active and healthy life," the majority (79 percent) of survey respondents said that they lived in a food secure household. But 13 percent reported living in marginally food secure households and 8 percent said food security was low or very low. When these figures are scaled up, those living with food insecurity (low or very low food security) equates to 4 million adults.
Unsurprisingly, the FSA found that poorer households were the ones finding it hardest to eat regularly and healthily. Fifty-eight percent of those with incomes in the lowest quartile reported that they had made changes to their eating habits for financial reasons in the last year, compared to 40 percent of those in the highest income quartile. Food insecurity was even worse among the unemployed, with over a third saying that they had reduced the quality of their diet or skipped meals because they didn't have enough money for food.
Alison Inglis-Jones, one of the trustees for food bank charity The Trussell Trust, told MUNCHIES that combatting food insecurity is a complex issue.
She said: "Our own data suggests that issues with benefits are a big driver of hunger in the UK, so we urge the Government, businesses, and, charities to work together to tackle the causes of poverty and ensure no one in the UK needs to go hungry. The Trussell Trust foodbank network gave over half a million food supplies and support in just six months last year, but this survey indicates that what we see is just the tip of the iceberg."
But income isn't the only barrier to a good diet. Charlotte Evans, a public health and nutrition researcher at the University of Leeds, told MUNCHIES that while finances affect access to nutritious food, environment also plays a role.
Evans said: "Low income households and people in poor communities certainly struggle more to eat a good quality diet because of the cost implications. But we also know that many of the food environments in deprived communities are so much worse in terms of how many fast food outlets there are and it's harder to get fresh fruit and vegetables."
She continued: "In low income families with high food insecurity, there's a higher risk of just about any non-communicable disease like obesity, deficiencies, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular disease than food secure households. We've got to make sure that we have policies reducing these inequalities."
But with Chancellor Philip Hammond announcing in the Budget earlier this month that welfare benefits would not rise in line with inflation, Government policy is falling short in the fight against food inequality.