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London demonstrates demand for a UK measurement of household food insecurity

On 19th October 2016, London Assembly Member Fiona Twycross asked Mayor of London Sadiq Khan whether he would lobby the Government to start measuring levels of household food insecurity – that is, when an individual or household has insufficient or insecure access to food due to resource constraints.

Twycross received a very positive response, with the Mayor making a commitment to monitor levels of poverty and food insecurity in the capital, and to develop a suite of intervention strategies to tackle this challenge.

The Mayor was correct in stating that food bank statistics only tell a partial story of food insecurity.  Indeed, evidence from other countries indicates that food bank usage is a very poor measure of food insecurity, as many food insecure households do not make use of emergency food aid for a range of reasons: including stigma, lack of access, and individuals feeling that that their own situation is not as bad as it could be and the service should be reserved for those that are worse off.  Preliminary data from the 2014 Gallup World Poll – which measured levels of food insecurity in the UK, albeit with a relatively sample size – indicates that 17 times more people live in food insecure households than those who live in households receiving food from Trussell Trust Food banks.

Khan has therefore asked his Office to work with a range of stakeholders to develop more sophisticated poverty metrics for London, including one for food insecurity.  This is great example of regional leaders working to alleviate food insecurity in the UK, and follows measures taken by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to measure levels of food insecurity in the devolved nations.  The Food Foundation is also aware of a number of other local authorities that are eager to quantify levels of food insecurity in their footfall.

However, these projects are using a range of measurement tools, making it impossible to form a UK-wide picture of household food insecurity.  Food Insecurity should be routinely measured in the UK using a standardised measurement tool, so we know who is affected and can target policy and resources on prevention.  The Mayor’s commitment to write to Government to request the development of an official UK measure of household food insecurity is therefore a positive development.

Responding to the Mayor, Twycross identified the Living Costs and Food Survey and the Health Survey for England as two existing surveys into which food insecurity modules could be readily inserted.  Twycross went on to highlight the work of End Hunger UK: a collection of organisations, including the Food Foundation, urging politicians and government to take the issue of hunger in the UK seriously.  End Hunger UK is encouraging local groups to host Big Conversation events between October 2016 and March 2017, to discuss how we can collectively end hunger throughout the UK.  We want to hear your thoughts, stories and ideas, and make sure politicians do too.

On the 8th of November the Food Foundation, Sustain, the Food Research Collaboration and Rachel Loopstra (Oxford University Department of Sociology) are discussing the case for measuring UK household food-insecurity as part of the 2016 ESRC Festival of Science.