Food Standards Agency Survey Confirms Enormity of those Struggling to Afford Food in the UK


  • 8% of all adults, and 7% of working adults, are food insecure – lacking sufficient and secure access to food because of a lack of money
  • A further 13% of adults are only marginally food secure

New survey data released today show that 8% of adults (~3.9 million) living in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are food insecure.  That is, that in the past 12 months, they experienced having insufficient and insecure access to food because of a lack of money. These figures are from new survey data gathered from over 3,100 adults across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as part of the 2016 Food and You Survey commissioned by the Government’s Food Standards Agency.

Household food insecurity varies in its degree of severity. In addition to the 8% of food insecure adults, a further 13% of adults experienced more moderate, yet worrisome, indications of insecure food access. These included worries about food running out, experiences of this happening, and/or being unable to afford to eat balanced meals. Based on international evidence, all stages of food insecurity are associated with poor health and nutrition outcomes for adults and children.


The survey data reveals that rates of food insecurity were as high as 23% among adults in the lowest income quartiles and 47% among unemployed adults. But employment was not sufficient protection from food insecurity, as 7% of those in work were food insecure. Sixteen per cent of adults in work reported worrying their food would run out before they had money to buy more.

In contrast, pensioners were at lower risk of food insecurity, with only 1-2% experiencing food insecurity. Higher rates of food insecurity observed among those under age 35 (11-16%) might reflect higher rates of poverty among these age groups.

The questions used by the FSA to classify food insecurity are from a validated measurement tool used to monitor household food insecurity in the United States and Canada.  These data are consistent with a recent report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which, based on a telephone survey of 1,000 adults in the UK, found that about 10% of adults experienced food insecurity in 2014. The data cannot directly be compared because survey methods and the classification of food insecurity differed between surveys. This said, the Food and You survey data confirm that the level of food insecurity is consistently high in the population.


Compared with the same measures used in a national survey of the Canadian adult population in 2014, rates of food insecurity are higher in the UK. The proportion of adults reporting being worry that food will run out was 8.9% in Canada, but nearly twice that in this survey, at 17% of adults.

Dr. Rachel Loopstra, Lecturer in Nutrition at King’s College London said:

‘Since food bank usage has risen in the UK, there have been urgent questions about how many people struggle to afford enough to eat in the UK. These robust survey data show how widespread the problem is. As a critical public health problem, household food insecurity requires regular population monitoring in the UK and urgent intervention at the policy level to address why so many people with low incomes and who are unemployed do not have enough money for food.’

Robin Hinks, Research and Policy Officer at the Food Foundation said:

‘These data are truly shocking.  To take so many British people off the breadline, the Government must drive up uptake of the Healthy Start programme for young and low income mothers, tackle gaps in food provision during school holidays, and review our welfare policies to protect the diets of society’s most vulnerable.  

Simon Shaw, Food Poverty Campaign Coordinator at Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, said:

‘Whilst we welcome that the FSA has taken steps to measure household food insecurity, these new figures are a shocking sign of the number of people who struggle to eat a decent diet. Sadly from those we meet week in week out, this is an increasingly large group of people and includes those in low paid work. Whilst this data is useful, we now need central government to start to regularly measure the scale of this problem as other countries do. Only then can we provide the best responses and monitor the impact for those people most at risk.’

Elli Kontorravdis, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Nourish Scotland said:

‘The only positive thing about these figures is that we finally have them – having a clear baseline of household food insecurity is essential for targeting policy and practice to solve it.

‘The FSA report highlights that women are more likely to be food insecure than men – this correlates with the harsh social security cuts imposed over the last 8 years – 85% of which have come directly from women’s pockets.’ 

Whilst these figures don’t include Scotland, they do come very close to the estimates we’ve calculated for Scotland.

 ‘The Scottish Government have separately committed to monitoring household food insecurity through the Scottish Health Survey, with the first figures due to be released in September 2017.’