Written Evidence Submitted by the Food Foundation (FS0076)

 

About The Food Foundation:

We are a young, dynamic, and impactful charity with a mission to change food policy and business practice to ensure everyone, across the UK, can afford and access a healthy diet supplied by a sustainable food system. We are independent of all political parties and business. We work with others who believe there is a problem with the system and want to change it.   

 

Introduction:

The Food Foundation submitted evidence to the EFRA Committee’s two previous inquiries into food security during the Covid-19 pandemic.  In this submission we include new analysis and research which we have conducted since January 2021 (when we last submitted evidence to the Committee on this topic). 

Our evidence is focussed on the following themes:

  1. Food prices
  2. Food insecurity
  3. Policy interventions

 

1) Food Prices

The Food Foundation has been monitoring food prices via our Food price tracker during the cost of living crisis.  We track both the Consumer Price Index and our own ‘Basic Basket’.

 

Consumer Price Index (CPI)

-          Accordingly the CPI, 12-month inflation rates for ‘foods and non-alcoholic beverages’ rose in August 2022 for the 13th consecutive month - inflation hit 13.1% in the 12 months to August, up from 12.7% in the 12 months to July. 

-          The increase in food and non-alcoholic beverage prices has predominantly been driven by rapidly rising prices for oils & fats and milk, cheese & eggs

The Food Foundation’s ‘Basic Basket’

-          Alongside the CPI, we have also been tracking the cost of our reasonably-costed, adequately-nutritious ‘Basic Basket’, which provides a complementary picture of changing food prices to the CPI measurement.

-          Each week we collect prices from Tesco online for two baskets of food items (for a typical man and a typical woman). We have been doing this since the beginning of April 2022.

-          The lists of items in the baskets are based on the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) developed by Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP), funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. As part of the MIS, CRSP have developed weekly menus through multiple discussion groups with participants representing different household types.  These have then been adjusted by a nutritionist to meet nutritional standards and developed into weekly shopping baskets.  We have used the baskets that they have developed for a single man and a single woman, making minor adjustments (e.g. to remove Christmas/celebration food, or because products were no longer available in the same pack size as originally specified).

-          It is important to note that the baskets are not reflective of what people on the lowest incomes are actually able to afford or would regularly purchase. This is because they are based on methodology which is rooted in public consensus about what constitutes a socially acceptable diet. 

-          The baskets are also not optimised for nutrition, though they do meet major nutritional requirements.

-          The male basket has slightly more items and men have higher calorie requirements, so this basket costs slightly more than the female basket.

-          Since the beginning of April 2022 (a 6 month period) the average cost of the woman’s basket has increased by 9.4% and the man’s by 12.1%.  The average cost of the basket with promotions applied (using the Tesco Clubcard) has increased by 10.2% since April 2022 for the woman’s basket, and 13.2% for the man’s. 

 

2) Food Insecurity

Food insecurity refers to the state of not being able to reliably access or afford a sufficient quantity of food, including having smaller meals, being hungry but not eating, and not eating for a full day.

The Food Foundation has been regularly tracking food insecurity rates on our Food insecurity tracker.

 

Overall food insecurity rates 

-          We have been running nationally representative surveys to assess food insecurity levels since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.  Data from our last survey round (Round 10) was published in April 2022, and we have recently gone to field for Round 11, which will be published in mid-October 2022.

-          Our evidence suggests that the cost of living crisis is already impacting on overall rates of food insecurity.

-          In April 2022 we found that 13.8% of households had experienced food insecurity in the past month, up from 8.8% in January 2022.

 

Households with children

-          Amongst households with children the situation was found to be even worse – with 17.2% of households with children reporting in April that they had experienced food insecurity in the past month, up from 12.1% in January.

-          This represents a total of 2.6 million children aged under 18 who in April were living in households that did not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at high risk of suffering from diet-related diseases. 

-          Households with children have consistently been found to be at higher risk of food insecurity than the general population in all rounds of survey data which we have published to date.

 

Other groups at higher than average risk of food insecurity

-          In April, 47.7% of households on Universal Credit were found to have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months, compared to 13.3% of households not on Universal Credit.  We discuss food insecurity in households on Universal Credit in more detail in this policy briefing.

-          In April, non-white ethnic groups were found to be at higher risk of food insecurity – with 23.9% of Asian/Asian British, 23.3% of Mixed, and 22.9% of Black/African/Caribbean households found to have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months, compared to 15.7% of White households.

-          In April, 36.1% of households containing an adult limited a lot by a disability reported having experienced food insecurity in the past month, compared to 17% of households with an adult limited a little by disability and 10.6% of households not containing an adult limited by disability.

 

Since April

-          Our upcoming data shows another large increase in food insecurity rates – this data is currently embargoed, but we would be happy to share it with the Committee once published. 

 

 

Breadline Voices

-          To help tell the real stories behind the data, we have also been working on a new project in the last few months – Breadline Voices

-          Since we started the project, we have posted 23 blogs from citizens living in poverty and also from those working in food banks, schools and other support organisations, reflecting on their experiences of the cost of living crisis.

 

Policy interventions

To safeguard the quality of people’s diets and to protect against household food insecurity during the cost of living crisis, we would encourage the Government to consider the following policy actions.

 

Expanding Free School Meals

-          Free School Meals provide children with a guaranteed hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime.  They also support families with the rising cost of living, help pupils engage in learning, improve academic performance, and reduce absenteeism. School meals are also the best option for children’s nutrition in school, given less than 2% of packed lunches meet school food standards.

-          A forthcoming report from Impact on Urban Health (currently under embargo) shows that Free School Meals have a very significant positive cost-benefit ratio.

-          The household earnings threshold for children to qualify for a free school meal in England is extremely low - just £7,400. This threshold has remained static since 2018, despite rapid inflation. England’s school meal eligibility threshold is the most restrictive of all the devolved nations – Scotland and Wales are in the process of introducing Free School Meals for all children at primary level while Northern Ireland’s eligibility threshold is twice that of England’s (£14,000 pre-benefits).

-          CPAG analysis estimates that 1 in 3 school-age children in England living in poverty (800,000) are currently missing out on Free School Meals.   And in analysis of data from The Food Foundation, researchers from the FixOurFood programme (funded by UKRI) found that 23% of children who were not in receipt of Free School Meals during the Covid-19 pandemic experienced food insecurity.

-          Expanding eligibility would be an effective way to support families that are struggling during the cost of living crisis.

-          We would recommend immediately expanding Free School Meal eligibility to all children from families in receipt of Universal Credit, and working towards a long-term goal of providing universally, comprehensively funded, healthy and nutritious school food, for all year groups.

-          Expanding FSM to all children in households on Universal Credit would cost £477 million in the first year of the rollout (including £10 million initial capital costs). Costs would be less in future years after that initial investment had been made. 1.3 million additional children would benefit.

-          80% of the public support ‘expanding FSM eligibility to provide a healthy, free school meal to all children experiencing food poverty’, and in May School and Education Union leaders representing more than a million teachers, support staff and others working with children wrote to the former chancellor Rishi Sunak and the former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi demanding free school meals are offered to all children in families receiving universal credit or equivalent benefits. 

-          For the past couple of years the Government has repeatedly stated that Free School Meal eligibility is “under review”.

 

Strengthening Healthy Start

-          The Healthy Start scheme provides pregnant women or pre-school aged children in low-income households with a weekly payment of £4.25 to spend on healthy foods. Funds can be used to purchase fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula. The scheme operates in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. A separate scheme, Best Start Foods, operates in Scotland.

-          To help these households to eat well during the cost of living crisis, the scheme should urgently be expanded and strengthened – by increasing the eligibility criteria, uptake rates and value of the scheme, and by resolving outstanding issues associated with the scheme’s digitisation process.

-          Further details can be found in our recent policy briefing on Healthy Start.

 

Raising incomes

-          In this data story we explored Government data from the Family Resources Survey, which shows that the £20 Uplift is likely to have protected families on Universal Credit from food insecurity.

-          To better protect low-income households from food insecurity in the future, the Government should look to raise incomes for the poorest households by reinstating the £20 uplift, increasing working age benefits in line with inflation and ensuring employers are paying at least the real living wage.

 

Supporting local food infrastructure

-          There is scope to significantly scale up investment in local food infrastructure.

-          Local food infrastructure includes local food partnerships, which are now active in ~80 cities and towns across the UK, community food enterprises (such as social supermarkets, food clubs and pantries, food hubs, food banks, community restaurants and cafes) all of which are growing in number, and community restaurants – offering subsidised hot food in a social setting. 

-          Support for this infrastructure could take a wide variety of forms, as discussed in our recent policy briefing on local food infrastructure.

 

Encouraging business action

-          Businesses can and should play a key role in helping people who are on very low incomes to secure an adequate diet, and in supporting people who are not in the poorest category but who are shifting their purchasing because of cost pressures to switch to healthier and more sustainable options.

-          Actions that businesses could consider include promoting the use of Healthy Start vouchers in store and if possible adding value to these vouchers, offering targeted promotions on healthier products, ensuring that the healthiest own-brand products in each category are also the most affordable, committing to implementing transparent volume based pricing so that customers can easily see which products are the best value, ensuring that budget ranges are widely stocked, and using Loyalty schemes to offer free and/or discounted fruit and veg to targeted groups.

-          Research that The Food Foundation conducted in April showed that 81% of households would find it most helpful for retailers to put essential food productions on promotion, rather than snacks and sweets.

-          We would also encourage all businesses to pay the living wage.

 

October 2022