Food Foundation highlights suffering of UK immigrants as they struggle for food

Begging for food

The Food Foundation highlights suffering of UK immigrants as they struggle for food

Many thousands of people in the UK may have no regular access to food because they are not allowed to claim public funds, according to a new policy briefing from The Food Foundation. Many are also not allowed to work.

Data from Citizen’s Advice shows that nearly 1.4 million people, including 175,000 babies and children, are affected by an immigration policy that puts many at greater risk of food poverty.

Current policy rules that many migrants should have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF), which includes most benefits.

This leaves these families precarious, putting many of those affected at risk of long-term destitution, says the Foundation’s briefing, which draws on new research commissioned from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care (CRIPACC).

The Food Foundation says urgent action is needed to tackle the ‘prolonged misery’ caused by the lack of a reliable safety net and legal access to work, both of which would help to ensure migrants are properly fed and housed.

The project has highlighted the damaging impact of Britain’s labyrinthine immigration system which can leave people in limbo for many years, leading to physical and mental health breakdown as well as depression and anxiety.

Many migrants are excluded from any kind of work or forced into precarious and exploitative work for low wages. The researchers found that families with NRPF were relying long-term on charities and friends for support. 

The Food Foundation is concerned that despite eligibility being extended, many families with NRPF are still not receiving Free School Meals. In addition, Healthy Start vouchers have not yet been extended permanently to NRPF families, babies and toddlers.

The Food Foundation is recommending that the government embarks on the following immediate interventions to address the needs of migrants:

  • Make the Healthy Start food voucher scheme permanent, and actively promote access to increase the number of families with no recourse to public funds benefiting from this support.
  • Provide local authorities with the resources they need to ensure families with no recourse to public funds receive adequate support.
  • Ensure all accommodation provided to asylum-seekers has adequate kitchen and cooking facilities.
  • Collect data to establish real levels of food insecurity among families and individuals with NRPF.

One of the people interviewed by the researchers has been living without access to public funds for 17 years. Others who were interviewed for the report described substandard and overcrowded housing with no cooking facilities and enforced regular moves.

Asylum seekers, who are seeking safety in the UK, are one of the groups barred from accessing public funds.

Many are traumatised by a forced departure from their countries as well as life-threatening journeys to the UK, where they are often housed long term in hotel rooms or hostels.

Most asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are trapped in poverty, with little choice over the food they eat, because their flat weekly payment of £40.85 has to cover all food, toiletries, clothing and travel.

There have been no official government efforts to examine the impact or extent of lack of access to food caused by this immigration policy, but it is known the number of people with NRPF status being referred to foodbanks has increased by up to 7% since before the Covid pandemic.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "Although migrants invariably make a positive contribution to society, many are placed into conditions of prolonged misery.

"One of the primary objectives of The Food Foundation is to raise awareness of the need for a healthy, nutritious diet for everyone and that includes migrants.

"As well as access to food, people need access to housing and work. We hope government policy advisors will take to heart the findings of this report and move swiftly to ensure a safety net is put in place."

Media contact

Lois Rogers - The Food Foundation - 0203 576 1045 or 

Social media

Twitter: @Food_Foundation #Lifttheban


About The Food Foundation
The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.
Registered Charity Number 1187611.

About The Nuffield Foundation
We are very grateful to the Nuffield Foundation which funded this Food Foundation’s policy briefing, Immigration Policy and Food Insecurity in the UK. The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.

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