Half of sick or disabled people on low incomes experienced food insecurity in 2016, study shows
Summary: More than half of people who suffered from a long-term illness or disability in 2016 suffered food insecurity, according research which has prompted renewed concerns about a "hunger crisis" in the UK.
The problem, which arises when people cannot afford to buy enough to eat, has almost doubled among the least well off in the last five years, according to the study, published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The study, which compared data from that year's Food & You Survey (F&Y) with data from the 2004 Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey (LIDNS), found that some people were going whole days without eating.
The mother-of-two, who lives with her two teenage boys, aged 16 and 19, said she had not been able to afford a proper food shop since she was discharged from hospital following a fall caused by her condition two weeks ago.
Ms Woods, whose husband passed away suddenly four years ago, said that since losing her disability benefit she receives £200 a fortnight in bereavement benefit, £53 a week in child tax credits, and £20 every week child benefit – amounting to just £173 a week.
“The boys get priority. I’ve skipped a lot of meals. I do feel hungry but there’s too much going on in my head to worry about it. The GP gave me some vitamin drinks – I take one of them instead of a meal.”
Ms Woods, who lives in Manchester, said that after being admitted to hospital her weight dropped from 11 and a half stone to just eight stone over a period of six weeks. She is appealing the decision to stop her PIP, but has been told it won’t be heard until next year.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said the “shocking” report highlighted the scale of the UK’s hunger crisis.
“Food insecurity simply should not exist in one of the richest countries in the world. Yet this report suggests that the number of people going hungry is increasing as a result of changes to the social security system,” she added.
“While the Great Recession also occurred between 2004 and 2016 and may have contributed to a rise in food insecurity at that time, by 2016 the UK was no longer in recession. By contrast, welfare reform continued, the effects of which were keenly felt by those with longstanding illnesses," it adds.
“Food insecurity has certainly always existed in the UK, but in light of the welfare changes that occurred over this period, it is possible the current social security system is providing increasingly inadequate protection from food insecurity for more and more people.”
It comes after figures from the Trussell Trust revealed last week that food bank use had soared to record levels, with the number of emergency supplies distributed across the UK having risen by nearly a fifth in one year,
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said the charity was increasingly hearing from people with MS that they’ve had to cut back on food and other essentials because of problems with disability benefits.
Jess Leigh, Policy and Campaigns Manager at disability equality charity, Scope, said the findings were "further shocking indications of the dire impact extra costs can have on disabled people".
She added: “Life costs more in you are disabled [...] Disabled people often have no choice but to spend more on essential goods and services like heating, therapies and equipment.
A government spokesperson said: “No family should have to experience hunger and tackling disadvantage remains a priority. Whilst we’ve seen food insecurity fall over the last few years, we recognise we need to do more.
“That’s why we’re supporting over 1 million children with free school meals, investing up to £26m in school breakfast clubs and spending more than £95bn a year on working-age benefits. Meanwhile employment is at a record high and wages are outstripping inflation.”
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