Woman picking up food from a shelf in a food bank with a graphic overlay of a pie chart

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has published a new report that highlights the sizeable gaps in government and third sector data when it comes to knowing who is going hungry, where they are and what is being done about it. It also draws together data sets to paint a picture of hunger in the UK today, where food price inflation currently stands at 13.1%

The report is accompanied by a digital tool that shows some of the variety of open data held at national and local authority level across England. It allows users to see how various parts of England rank across the food poverty indices and examine measures of food poverty across individual local authorities. It is live now and can be viewed here

The ODI’s Food insecurity and data infrastructure report shows that more could be done when it comes to the availability and collection of data around food poverty and those impacted. In its conclusions, the ODI suggests that steps are taken to develop a standard measure for food poverty – to enable more accurate measurement and better targeted solutions. This measurement could draw on information including household income, food bank usage, benefits data and child poverty data. The government could also call on the private sector to free up timely data on prices and consumption habits that may paint a more detailed real-time picture of food insecurity, both nationally and regionally.

Part of the problem with the current data infrastructure is latency in the figures. Current measures rely on surveys and other research methods that are carried out on a regular basis, but which are often analysed and published months later. So the figures can lag behind the reality faced by people in food poverty, which is a significant challenge for those hoping to both understand and address the situation. More could be done to improve the availability and timeliness of data in a period when fuel and food prices are changing rapidly. 

There are also contradictions in the current data. For example, the Family Resources Survey shows a ‘food insecurity’ rate of 7% (1.95m UK households), whereas the Food Standards Agency’s Household Food Insecurity report showed that 15% (4.1m households if extrapolated across the UK) of those surveyed had used a food bank or food charity in the last month (March 2022 figures), while 22% (6.1m) skip meals or reduce how much they eat. 

Louise Burke, Managing Director, The Open Data Institute said:

“This report shows that there is important work to be done in the way that food insecurity is measured, so that responses to the problem can be timely, targeted and effective. The data within it also shows that targeted help may be needed in communities across the country, whether they be defined by geography, ethnicity or background. At the ODI, we strongly believe in the power of data to benefit people in their daily lives and this is another clear example of how improving data infrastructure can help. This might include making more data available, bringing datasets together and creating a timely and consistent measure of food poverty. All of which could help improve the wellbeing of people in the UK.” 

Ethnicity, locality, family and food poverty

For this research, the ODI and its partners collected data from various sources and applied data analytics to understand the situation across England, utilising government datasets as well as those from organisations, such as the Trussell Trust. Standout figures show that Black and Bangladeshi families are more likely to suffer from food insecurity than their White counterparts, with 21% of families who are headed by an individual who is Black and 12% of Bangladeshi-headed families classified as food insecure, compared with 6% of families whose head of household is White. The Family Resources Survey also reveals that households headed by Black (40%), Bangladeshi (55%) or mixed ethnicity (32%) individuals are all significantly more likely to be in relative poverty, when compared to the overall national figure of 15.8%. 

Dr Halima Begum, CEO at the Runnymede Trust said:

“To eat or heat becomes a starker choice depending on your situation, and for families with children, food is likely the more important of the two. This research from the Open Data Institute fills an important gap in showcasing exactly how specific Black and ethnic minority groups are suffering food insecurity at alarmingly disproportionate rates.” 

The report finds that 9% of all households containing children are in food poverty, but also exposes regional disparities in the impact of rising food prices and the cost of living crisis. Food insecurity sits at:

  • 11% in the North East of England
  • 9% in Inner London and the East Midlands, 
  • 4% with South East England and South West England,
  • 3% in Wales.

Amanda Naylor OBE, Chief Executive, Manchester Youth Zone said:

“Manchester Youth Zone works with over 1,000 children and their families every week. Over the past 12 months the food poverty crisis in North Manchester has led to an eight-fold increase in demand on our food pantry, with over 40% of our members now requiring support with food packages. Data intelligence about the problems faced by our communities is a real issue. The data is not currently being captured and used effectively to enable organisations like ours to look at the issues holistically. For example, many of our children are not registered with doctors or dentists, and they might not have statutory access to services. So who is capturing that data? Community centres, Black-led organisations, organisations like us at Manchester Youth Zone, the people working at the grassroots who know the communities, we hold huge amounts of data that has never been asked for and we currently have no means of feeding this information into the system.

The Food Standard Agency has tracked food poverty metrics over time, with each of their metrics showing a recent increase in food poverty, peaking in the most recent three months of the survey (covering January to March 2022). This is in keeping with data on the rise in the number of food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust food banks from 2005/2006 to 2021/22. 

Lisa Allen, Director of Data and Services, The Open Data Institute said:

“The report’s findings highlight gaps in how data is collected and utilised, and show a clear need for better acquisition and stewardship of data. This would enable an up-to-date and accurate single measure of food poverty. This combination of government, private sector and third sector data could provide a national and local picture including the most up to date information. Integrating such a single measure with health surveys would allow researchers to trace through the actual impacts of food poverty in a much more direct way than is currently the case.”