Government Data on Food Insecurity During the Pandemic: A Data Story

New Government Data Shows the £20 Uplift is Likely to Have Protected Families on Universal Credit from Food Insecurity

by Shona Goudie

The Department of Work and Pensions conduct an annual measurement of food insecurity levels as part of the Family Resources Survey. In this data story we summarise the main findings from the Government's survey published in March 2022 on food insecurity levels in 2020-21. We also compare the findings to the survey a year earlier.

*("Low" or "very low" food security is defined as food insecure; "marginal" food security is defined as food secure but are more likely to fall into food insecurity in the face of shocks e.g. the cost of living crisis.)

In 2020-21, 7% of households experienced food insecurity according to Government data from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Data from nationally representative surveys from The Food Foundation found similar levels of food insecurity in August 2020 to the Government data but our data shows that since then food insecurity levels have increased by 27%.

Vast inequalities continue to be seen with some subgroups of the population at significantly higher risk of food insecurity than others.

Food insecurity levels in households on Universal Credit were almost four times as high as the average household.

Food insecurity in households in receipt of Universal Credit were 37% lower when the uplift was in place compared with before the pandemic. This points to the critical role the £20 uplift played a in protecting families from food insecurity.

In comparison, food insecurity levels in households on Housing Benefit (a legacy benefit which didn’t qualify for the £20 uplift) saw food insecurity levels remain the same further indicating the impact the uplift had.

However, since this survey was conducted the £20 uplift has been removed leaving households over £1000 worse off per year. Furthermore, the cost of living has increased drastically due to rising food and fuel prices putting many families at even greater risk of food insecurity.

Households on the lowest incomes saw the biggest improvement in food insecurity levels showing targeted measures to support the least well off during the pandemic had some success.

The data also shows a continuation of inequalities in food insecurity amongst people with disabilities, ethnic groups and households with children.

Households with a disabled adult remain at considerably higher risk (over twice as high) than households without a disabled adult.

Households where the head was of Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British ethnicity, were the only ethnic group not to see an improvement in food insecurity levels showing a widening of ethnic inequalities.

Households with children also continue to have much higher levels of food insecurity than households without children.

The collection of robust data assessing food insecurity is essential to being able to deliver effective policies to tackle the problem and measure the impact of those policies. However, Government then has a responsibility to act on the data and be held to account for reducing the high levels of food insecurity and particularly the vast inequalities in levels of food insecurity amongst households in receipt of benefits

Despite the evidence on the severity and scale of food insecurity in the UK, there continues to be a lack of government leadership and no strategy for addressing it.

As a first step, the Work and Pensions Committee should launch an inquiry into what the Government is planning to do to reduce the levels of household food insecurity amongst benefits claimants.   


For more up to date data on food insecurity levels from The Food Foundation see our food insecurity tracker (new data coming April 2022)


Food insecurity (sometimes referred to as food poverty) is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

In February 2019, after years of campaigning by The Food Foundation and other advocacy organisations, the Department of Work and Pensions committed to start measuring household food insecurity as part of their annual Family Resources Survey. Before this, there was no official measurement of national food insecurity levels in the UK. 

This is an annual survey, covering all four nations and has a large sample of 20,000 households. Data is gathered over the course of a year and reported a year later. The first data was published in 2021 capturing levels of food insecurity from 2019-20 (pre-pandemic).

Food insecurity is measured over a 1-month recall period. This recall period is shorter than the standard 12 months used in main measurements of food insecurity and so captures less people who are experiencing transient food insecurity.   

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