New data shows UK essential workers face devastating food insecurity levels


New Data Shows UK Essential Workers Face Devastating Food Insecurity Levels 

Food insecurity was experienced in January 2023 by:

  • A quarter (25%) of households in which NHS and social care workers live  
  • More than a quarter (26%) of households in which food sector workers live 
  • More than a fifth (21%) of households in which education sector workers live 

New data from The Food Foundation shows huge numbers of essential workers in the UK are struggling to access enough food.

A quarter (24.9%) of households in which NHS or social care workers live experienced food insecurity in January 2023, as did more than a quarter (25.8%) of households home to food sector workers and more than a fifth (21.1%) of households home to education workers.  

These figures come in the midst of the NHS and education unions dispute with Government calling for wage increases to keep up with rising prices and as frontline workers delivering essential services continue to struggle with the cost of living crisis. 

Of all households that were food insecure in January 2023, 38.6% are in employment, indicating that being in work is not necessarily sufficient to prevent families from falling into food insecurity.  

Food insecurity is also extremely prevalent amongst households in receipt of benefits, many of who are also in work: nearly half (49.0%) of households receiving Universal Credit experienced food insecurity at the beginning of the year.  

NHS and social care workers

  • 24.9% of households in which an NHS worker lives experienced food insecurity in January 2023. Within this group, food insecurity was experienced by households which are home to the following workers:  
  • Nurses – 26.1% 
  • Social care workers – 27.9%  

This compares with 17.8% of households in which no one works for the NHS or in social care. 

Food sector workers  

  • 25.8% of households in which a food sector worker (including supermarket workers) lives experienced food insecurity in January 2023.  

This compares with 17.9% of households in which no one works in the food sector.  

Education sector workers  

  • 21.1% of households in which an education sector worker lives experienced food insecurity in January 2023. Within this group, food insecurity was experienced by households which are home to the following workers: 
  • Teachers – 17.8% 
  • Teaching assistant – 21%

Latest data on national food insecurity levels from The Food Foundation’s Food Insecurity Tracker show 9.3 million adults (17.7% of households) experienced food insecurity in January 2023, with one in four households with children (four million children) experiencing food insecurity in same month. 

These findings demonstrate that food insecurity continues to be highly prevalent in the UK and that for many, wages and benefits are simply not providing enough to live on.  

The Food Foundation is calling on the Government to take action to ensure no one in the UK has to suffer food insecurity by ensuring that minimum wage and benefit levels are set at values that take into account what is required for families to afford a healthy diet.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "Struggling to afford food is by no means confined to those out of work.

"Many people doing important jobs are also suffering the stress and indignity of not knowing if their pay cheque will allow them to buy the bare essentials.

"Businesses must pull out all the stops to help their lower paid staff and the Government needs to seriously scrutinise why their policies are failing to protect struggling families from affording the basics and start setting some targets for reducing food insecurity levels, particularly amongst benefit claimants."

Donna Barton, Usdaw representative and convenience store worker, said: "The cost of living is absolutely eye-watering.

"Everyone is cutting corners, cutting back and doing without; trying to make cheaper meals, which means healthy eating has gone out of the window. Ketchup is £4 a bottle, who can afford that?

"I can’t believe a pint of milk is now 95p, it used to be £1.10 for 4 pints.... I live on my own, which means I’m responsible for all the bills and I dare not put the heating on unless I absolutely have to.

"We’ve had pay rises this year that are above the headline rate of inflation, I don’t know how I’d have kept my head above water without those, but all that increase has been swallowed up by rising prices, particularly for food and energy bills which have gone up so much more.

"The company also gives us free food at break time and bigger discounts on pay day, which all helps, but it’s still really tough to make ends meet."

Niamh Sweeney, Deputy General Secretary, National Education Union (NEU), said: "Pay is a serious issue across the education sector.

"It is one of the reasons why teachers and support staff are leaving the profession and why many decide not to enter it. The Government missed its target for recruiting new secondary school teachers by 41% this year. 

 "Support staff and special needs support assistants are leaving for jobs with higher pay, less hours and less stress. Some of our most vulnerable pupils are losing out. 

"We need fair pay to recruit more to the profession and for the sake of children and young people’s education."

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: "The Food Foundation’s finding that a quarter of key workers in the food industry are experiencing food insecurity is appalling.

"It reflects an Usdaw survey of our own members working in food retail, distribution and manufacturing; which found that one in four are missing meals every month to be able to pay their bills.

"The ongoing cost of living crisis is a key challenge for the Government, with skyrocketing prices leaving too many workers struggling to make ends meet.

"Food and drink inflation is much higher than the overall rate of inflation, with many staple items like milk, eggs, bread and potatoes rising at twice the headline rate. That clearly demonstrates the scale of the challenge for workers struggling to make ends meet.

"We need Government action to tackle rising bills, along with a new deal for workers to end low-paid and insecure employment, along with a social security system that gives people a proper safety net."

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: "No one should face food insecurity in one of the richest countries on earth.

"And it is a disgrace that so many of our social care, NHS, and school support staff workers aren’t even earning enough to cover these essentials.              

"NHS workers had to take strike action for better wages, and pay rates are desperately low across care and school support staff roles.

"Too many of these workers – who do vital work for the most vulnerable and our children - are paid a pittance. 

"And it is a mark of shame that half of NHS Trusts are setting up foodbanks for their own workers. This shows why decent pay rises for NHS workers are essential. 

"It’s time that the Government and employers paid the decent wages that all key workers deserve."




Please contact Pandora Haydon on 07789 712608 or email

Food Foundation Insecurity tracker here.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 10,814 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st January and 3rd February 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults 18+. The figures presented from the online survey have been analysed independently by The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Comparison to older figures is from a series of previous surveys conducted with YouGov commissioned by the Food Foundation. Population calculations made by the Food Foundation using 2021 mid-year population estimates (reference).

We ask the following questions to explore how many households have experienced food insecurity:

  1. Having smaller meals than usual or skipping meals due to being unable to afford or get access to food   
  2. Being hungry but not eating due to being unable to afford or get access to food   
  3. Not eating for a whole day due to being unable to afford or get access to food

If they answered yes to any of these three questions, they are classified as food insecure.  We ask them if they had experienced this in a) the last month and b) the last 6 months. The questions are based on the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Security Survey module.  

Available for interview
Anna Taylor – Executive Director, Food Foundation.

Twitter: @Food_Foundation

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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. 

With thanks to our funders including The Nuffield Foundation.  

About The Nuffield Foundation 
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. Visit

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