The figures released this week as part of the Scottish Health Survey help shed some light on the scale of food insecurity in Scotland. Imogen Richmond-Bishop from Sustain discusses why this shows we need routine food insecurity measurement across the U.K.
This is the first time that the Scottish Health Survey has included questions on food insecurity. The questions themselves were drawn from the Food Insecurity Experience Scale developed by the United Nations. Food insecurity means that, because of a lack of money, a person or a household has to eat a less healthy diet, go without food, or worries about doing so.
So what does the data say?
Food insecurity was most prevalent in areas of deprivation where 18% of people are food insecure compared to 3% in least deprived areas. Of those aged 16-44, 13% reported being food insecure; for those aged 65 and over this figure dropped to 1%.
High levels of food insecurity in young adults can be directly connected to stagnating wages as well zero hour contracts and frozen benefits levels. The roll out of Universal Credit has also been identified as a key causal factor. Research by End Hunger UK published earlier this year found that emergency food aid providers from across the UK reported a surge in demand in areas where Universal Credit was rolled out. The National Audit Office report on Rolling Out Universal Credit detailed evidence that the new welfare system has caused hardship to some users as well as their finding that one in five claimants do not receive full payment on time.
With 21% of single parents experiencing food insecurity, they have been identified as some of those that are the most at risk in Scotland,. This is consistent with findings from civil society, for example polling by the Young Women’s Trust found that nearly half of mothers under the age of 25 skipped meals in order to feed their children. A cumulative impact assessment by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission undertaken earlier this year on recent tax and welfare reforms found that lone parents lost on average one fifth of their income, with those on the lowest incomes losing the most.
It can be hard to fully comprehend food insecurity from statistics alone, it is therefore extremely important to listen to those who have a direct lived experience of food insecurity and the effect that this can have on a person’s choices and well-being. As Kerry* from East Ayrshire told A Menu for Change: “Obviously, my main priority’s making sure my kids are fed. And if it’s the difference between me getting fed or them getting fed, then it’s them obviously.”
“When so many people are struggling to make ends meet you know something has gone badly wrong with the system.” Dr Mary Anne MacLeod, Policy Officer at A Menu for Change, a project working with communities to find long-term solutions to food poverty that don’t rely on food aid.
The vital information that we can gather from the data that has been provided by the Scottish Food Health Survey shows exactly why we need robust household food insecurity measurement across the UK .
Through civil society studies we are able to begin to get an idea of the scale of food insecurity across the UK, but the lack of official data means we are unable to get a full picture. Without this full picture the UK Government will not be able to develop effective policy to tackle food insecurity nor will it be able to accurately track its progress on reducing food insecurity, as it has pledged to do so through the Sustainable Development Goals.
On the 26th of October, Emma Lewell Buck MP’s Bill to measure household food insecurity will have its second reading in Westminster.
There is widespread support for household food insecurity measurement. 77% of adults polled by YouGov agreed that the Government should measure food insecurity and over 150 cross bench MPs support Emma Lewell Buck MP’s Bill.
* Name changed to protect confidentiality