NEWS11 October 2022

Understanding of food poverty hampered by data gaps

Cost of Living Data analytics News Public Sector Trends UK

UK – The scale of food insecurity in the UK is unknown due to gaps in the collection, publication and availability of data, according to the Open Data Institute (ODI), which has called for a single metric on the issue.

Cardboard box containing food tins and packages - food bank donation

The ODI’s Food insecurity and data infrastructure report, based on joint research with Frontier Economics and Mime, combines data sources and existing evidence relating to food insecurity.

According to the ODI, gaps in how information is collected and shared means governments and charities often lack high-quality insights to take action on the problem. 

The analysis found that that a fifth ( 21%) of households headed by a black individual are classified as food insecure – defined in the report as ‘the inability of individuals and households to access a nutritious diet’. Households headed by someone who is Indian ( 4%), or white ( 6%) are less likely to be food insecure.

Additionally, average food insecurity rates are highest in the north-east of England ( 11% of total households in that region experience food insecurity) inner London ( 9%) and the East Midlands ( 9%), according to the study.

The ODI has called for a single ‘food poverty metric’ to be developed based on information including household income, food bank usage, benefits data and child poverty data.

Such a measure could be used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to highlight the issue of food poverty, and would ‘enable better targeted assistance’, according to the ODI.

Inadequate data infrastructure, latency of survey findings and surveys that do not align in terms of measurement are all highlighted by the report as issues hampering the provision of data about food poverty. 

Lisa Allen, director of data and services, The Open Data Institute, said: “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.”

As part of the research, the ODI developed a tool to allow others to use the data it collected in a single location. 

Amanda Naylor, chief executive, Manchester Youth Zone, one of the organisations consulted for the report, said: “Data intelligence about the problems faced by our communities is a real issue. The data is not currently being captured and used effectively to enable organisations like ours to look at the issues holistically. 

Louise Burke, managing director, The Open Data Institute, added: “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.” 

An ONS spokesperson said: “We are continually developing our statistics to reflect the experiences of everyone in our society so that everyone counts, and is counted. Working with our partners across government, we will consider the ODI’s proposals carefully.”