Food poverty in the UK

Jack Monroe

At a glance

Food poverty is on the rise in the UK, Oxfam is working with others to campaign for a system where everyone can afford to feed their family with dignity.

Overview

Although the UK is the seventh richest country in the world, many people struggle to afford food.

  • In 2012-13, the Trussell Trust foodbank network, an Oxfam partner, provided over 350,000 people in the UK with food parcels - more than double the year before.
  • Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that over 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food parcels.
  • Over 2 million people in the UK are estimated to be malnourished, and 3 million are at risk of becoming so.
  • 36% of the UK population are just one heating bill or a broken washing machine away from hardship.
  • 1 in 6 parents have gone without food themselves to afford to feed their families

"People at the upper end of the income scale have no idea of what's going on down at the bottom of the scale. They don't realise how much people are really hurting."
Sir Michael Marmot, health inequality expert and author of Fair Society, Healthy Lives.

Food poverty reports

To highlight the rise in food poverty in the UK Oxfam and the Church Action on Poverty published Walking the Breadline: The scandal of food poverty in 21st-century Britain in 2013. The report recommends that the government conducts an urgent inquiry into the relationship between welfare changes and cuts, and the growth of food poverty.

In 2014 we released a follow up report: Below the Breadline: The relentless rise of food poverty in Britain, which makes recommendations for how the social security system could provide the safety net when people need it, supporting people into sustainable work and providing for those unable to work. It also calls for the UK minimum wage to be increased to a living wage by 2020.

Emergency use only

: in 2014 research was jointly conducted by Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Church of England and The Trussell Trust to examine why people are turning to food banks, how food bank use fits with their wider coping strategies, and what might be done to reduce the need that leads to food bank use.

What we're doing

Oxfam believes that the increase in people needing food aid in the UK shows that our social safety net is failing. In fact, over a third of people receiving food parcels from the Trussell Trust last year were there because of cuts or gaps in benefit payments. A significant number of these cases were due to administrative failures in the system, which quickly resulted in crisis.

We believe everyone should have enough income to feed themselves and their families with dignity, so we are working with different partners across the UK to tackle food poverty in different ways.

Projects

We work with several partners to ensure people in need can access healthy food. 

  • We work with the Trussell Trust, who support communities to open foodbanks that provide emergency food parcels for people referred from local agencies like job centres and advice services
  • We work with FareShare, who recycle surplus food from retailers and manufacturers by distributing it to community centres, homeless shelters, and schools. FareShare also provide training on nutrition and food preparation, as well as warehouse employability training
  • We work with schools and a city farm in Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived boroughs of London, to improve people's access to healthy food. This project supports pupils to grow vegetables in school grounds, and parents to learn more about preparing healthy meals.

Getting voices heard where it matters

Oxfam are working in partnership with Church Action on Poverty to call on the government to:

  • Conduct an urgent inquiry into the connections between gaps, cuts, errors and sanctions on benefits, and the increase in food poverty
  • Record and monitor all referrals made to foodbanks by government agencies
  • Tackle tax dodging to reduce the need for future cuts in benefits and also return to having them rise at least in line with inflation

Oxfam is also an active member of the Just Fair consortium, a group of UK organisations who, this year, are focusing on the right to food in the UK. We are taking part in an event at Westminster highlighting the rise of the hunger in the UK, where we will be supporting people affected by food poverty to deliver testimony and questions to MPs.

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