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Social security policies needed to tackle food insecurities

Household food insecurity, which is inadequate or insecure access to food arising from financial constraints, affects about 8-15% of populations in high-income countries.

Canada and the USA regularly monitor household food insecurity, while in other countries such as the UK it has been the rapid rise in food banks that has drawn increased attention to this longstanding, but largely overlooked problem. 

According to estimates of hunger in the UK, more than 8 million people in Britain live in households that struggle to put enough food on the table. The absence of up-to-date and accurate data means that the magnitude of the problem remains hidden, so there is little government action to address the problem. The recent rise of food banks in the UK has been tied to welfare reforms and reductions in social security, but this form of food assistance has not been shown to protect people from food insecurity. Food banks are highly reliant on donations of volunteer time and food, and so are inevitably limited, and for many, receiving food charity is a last resort or something they would never consider.

Dr Rachel Loopstra from the Division of Diabetes & Nutritional Sciences at King’s suggests that a different approach - aimed at addressing the underlying factors of food insecurity such as poverty, unemployment, and high-living costs - would be more effective. Research on public policy interventions has shown that welfare benefits and guaranteed annual income interventions result in reduced household food insecurity, while reduced public spending on these can increase it.  

Rachel’s research examining food insecurity trends across Europe over the recent recession showed how unemployment and falling wages were associated with rising food insecurity, but that this was not the case in countries with high levels of investment in social protection.

Presenting her findings at July’s Nutrition Society conference Rachel said:

“Food security is essential not only for nutritional status, but also mental health and well-being. Social security policies that enhance people's economic access to food and protect people from economic hardships are the most effective ways to ensure this.”