Food Poverty

Food poverty was defined by the Department of Health in 2005 as ‘the inability to afford or have reasonable access to food which provides a healthy diet’. On average, foods high in salt, sugar and fat are cheaper to buy than healthier foods. Poor diet and obesity are leading risk factors for non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Food poverty is a complex issue that has become more visible with the recent rise in emergency food providers. Food bank use is an inadequate indicator of need, because many households only ask for emergency food help as a last resort. There are 30 food banks and 20 other emergency food providers in Devon, including soup kitchens, and day centres. The Trussell Trust run 10 food banks and the others are independent. The Trussell Trust provided three days’ emergency food to 67,858 adults and 38,434 children in the South West in 2014-15. In 2014, Exeter Food Bank provided food to 4,783 people, including 1,072 children. These figures refer to the number of individual food parcels distributed and therefore include some ‘repeat’ users. During a six month period in 2014, repeat users accounted for over a third (36%) of total activity. Nationally food bank usage has increased over recent years, with the Trussell Trust reporting the numbers given three days’ emergency food from their food banks nationally had increased from 346,992 in 2012-13, to 913,138 in 2013-14 and 1,084,604 in 2014-15.

Table 5.1, Primary referral causes to Trussell Trust food banks, 2014-15

Referral causePercentage
Benefit Delays29.7%
Low Income22.3%
Benefit Changes13.8%
Domestic Violence1.5%
Delayed Wages1.1%
Child Holiday Meals0.8%
Refused Short-Term Benefit Advances0.7%

Source: Trussell Trust, 2015

A number of issues have been highlighted in relation to food poverty. These include:

  • Increased food, fuel and housing costs
  • The impact of welfare reform, including benefit delays and sanctions
  • In-work poverty; low-paid, insecure jobs and zero-hours contracts
  • The challenges of school holidays, including the absence of free schools meals and added childcare costs
  • Impact of rurality including cost of transport.
 Box 1, Food Poverty, Perceptions and Experiences Overview

The following quotes are from interviews with clients and staff at Exeter Food Bank. This study was submitted to the All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry on Food Poverty and Hunger, 2014. Further in-depth research on rural food poverty in Devon is underway.

“I am a single person, aged 21, living at Exeter YMCA. I have had a job since April but they can’t guarantee my hours as I am on a zero hour contract. Due to a lack of hours at work, I had only been paid a little and had to pay for rent and travel. I don’t have any money to buy food.”

“On 30th May 2013, we spoke to a single mum at Foodbank who came with her 8 year old daughter. She had gradually fallen into debt because has had to pay for childcare expenses in school holiday time in order to keep her own fulltime, minimum wage job. She said they’d be better off on benefits, but wanted to work.”


McIvor, L. and Williams, A. Emergency Food Aid in Exeter: Findings from Exeter Foodbank. Submitted to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry on Food Poverty and Hunger, July 2014.