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In 2020/21, 4.2 million people (6%) were in food poverty, including 9% of children.

This briefing provides statistics on food poverty in the UK, including food banks and free school meals.

Food poverty

There is no widely accepted definition of ‘food poverty’. However, a household can broadly be defined as experiencing food poverty or ‘household food insecurity’ if they cannot (or are uncertain about whether they can) acquire “an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways”.

The increase in the cost of living has increased household food insecurity. In June to July 2022, of the 91% of adults in Great Britain who reported an increase in their cost of living, 95% saw the price of their food shopping go up, and 44% had started spending less on essentials including food.

A YouGov survey by the Food Foundation found that in April 2022, 15.5% of all UK households were food insecure (ate less or went a day without eating because they couldn’t access or afford food).

According to the Department for Work and Pensions’ Households Below Average Income survey, in 2020/21, 4.2 million people (6%) were in food insecure households. Among the 10.5 million people in relative poverty, 16% were in food insecure households, including 17% of children. People in relative poverty live in a household with income less than 60% of contemporary median income.

Food banks

Food banks are run by charities and are intended as a temporary provision to supply emergency food. There are no official statistics on food banks, but there are around 1,300 Trussell Trust food banks and 1,034 Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) food banks in the UK.

In 2021/22, the Trust supplied 2.2 million three-day emergency food parcels, a decrease of 15% on the previous year. The general trend of increasing numbers has continued. In the financial year 2021/22 there was an increase of 14% compared to 2019/20. The big increase in the year 2020/21 was cause by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021/22, 832,000 food parcels went to children.

Free school meals

In England, free school meals (FSM) are a statutory entitlement available to eligible pupils. Local authorities are responsible for providing FSM.

In January 2022, there were around 1.9 million pupils known to eligible for FSM. This means there has been an increase in the proportion eligible to 22.5% of state-funded pupils (from 20.8% in January 2021, 17.3% in January 2020, and 15.4% in January 2019).

This increase could be driven by many factors including the Covid-19 pandemic and the continued effect of the transitional protections during the rollout of Universal Credit.

Free school meals and educational attainment

On average, pupils eligible for free school meals achieve lower GCSE attainment than other pupils. This is based on achieving a “standard pass” in English and maths GCSE. In 2021, 51% of pupils known to be eligible for FSM achieved a standard pass in both subjects, compared to 77% of pupils not eligible. This was a gap of 26 percentage points. In recent years this gap has remained broadly the same.

There are also differences in attainment between different groups of pupils receiving FSM. For example, pupils receiving FSM in London have the highest GCSE attainment (of all pupils known to be eligible for free school meals), and the smallest attainment gap between pupils that are not eligible for FSM, of any region.

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