A report on food poverty data from the Open Data Institute (ODI) has revealed that the North East of England and black families throughout the country are suffering most from food poverty.
Louise Burke, managing director at 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.”
Research for the project was carried out by the ODI alongside Allegory, a strategic communication agency; Frontier Economics, an economics consultancy; and Mime Consulting, a data consultancy that says it focuses on social problems.
The ODI is calling for a single food poverty metric that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) could use to highlight the issue of food poverty and target help better than at present.
The report’s analysis disclosed differences in food poverty across ethnic, social and geographic groups – with 21% of households headed by a black person and 12% of Bangladeshi households being “food insecure”. It showed 11% of homes in the North East of England and 9% in Inner London are in food poverty. Overall, 9% of households with children are in food poverty.
The report, Food insecurity and data infrastructure, pulls together sources such as the Family resources survey, the Food Standards Agency’s Household food insecurity report, data from food poverty charity FareShare, and the Trussell Trust’s emergency food parcel distribution data.
But its authors said a more accurate picture of food poverty could be obtained by drawing on other datasets concerning household income, food bank usage, benefits data and child poverty data. They suggested that the government should also call on the private sector to free up timely data on prices and consumption habits to get a more detailed real-time picture of food insecurity.
Amanda Naylor, chief executive of the charity Manchester Youth Zone, chimed in with this theme in a statement issued with the report: “Data intelligence about the problems faced by our communities is a real issue,” she said. “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.”
Naylor added: “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.”
The report’s authors said there is no universally accepted definition of food insecurity. They defined it as the inability of people to access a nutritious diet. A household is therefore experiencing food insecurity if they “cannot – or are uncertain about whether they can – get an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways”.
The report also indicated a surfeit of latency in the information currently available. This relies, they said, on surveys and other research methods that are carried out regularly, but which are often analysed and published months later.
The authors also pinpointed contradictions in the current data. For example, the Family resources survey showed a “food insecurity” rate of 7% (1.95 million UK households), whereas the Food Standards Agency’s Household food insecurity report showed that 15% (4.1 million households if extrapolated across the UK) of those surveyed had used a food bank or food charity in March 2022 , while 22% (6.1 million) skipped meals or reduced how much they eat.
The Family resources survey also revealed 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%.
Halima Begum, CEO at race equality think-tank 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.”
Lisa Allen, director of data and services at the ODI, concluded: “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.”