The research provides us with more clear ideas on what to lobby and campaign for. Here are the 7 Key Conclusions from the research, which we will aim to highlight and campaign for throughout our projects:
1.It is not possible to talk about food insecurity in the UK without talking about benefits.
Among working-age people who are food insecure, 52.9% are claiming income/work-related benefits; and among people who are severely food insecure, 62.1% are claiming benefits.
A £500m fund can only make up for the loss of £20/week for 1m households (probably 1.3m adults). Even if the fund is targeted perfectly, it cannot cover all of the 1.7m who were severely food insecure, and can cover less than half of the 3.0m who had any food insecurity. The end of the uplift not only risks more people falling into food insecurity; most UC claimants already in food insecurity will lose £20/week as well.
3. While keeping the £20/week UC would help, a significant fall in food insecurity would require a broader increase in the level of benefits. COVID-19-related changes (including the £20/week uplift) were associated with an improvement in food security among UC claimants compared to those on legacy benefits who did not receive them. But they are a sticking plaster on a broader problem: even with the uplift, half of UC claimants were food insecure, and around one-quarter were severely food insecure. Even among UC claimants receiving the £20/week uplift and not subject to any of the policies that raise the risk of food insecurity (described below),we estimate that 29.4% were food insecure, and 16.1% were severely food insecure.
4. To reduce food insecurity, the under-occupancy penalty and the benefits cap should be abolished.
The research makes it clear that food insecurity is higher among people subject to these policies.
5. To reduce food insecurity, less money should be deducted from people’s benefits, and the five-week assessment period for payment in UC should be abolished.
While the researchers recommend reducing the level of deductions to repay past debts, they assert that it would be better to design a system that did not lead to incurring these debts in the first place – including getting rid of the ‘five-week wait’ for payment.
6. To reduce food insecurity, the DWP needs to better help people deal with their wider debts.
If benefits are to provide an adequate income, then claimant debt must be taken into account – e.g. by better providing or signposting to debt advice, and making claimants aware of the ‘Breathing Space’ scheme.
7. To reduce food insecurity, policymakers need to make sure that disabled people receive adequate benefits.
ESA claimants did not receive the £20/week uplift, and probably as a result, the research found that their levels of food insecurity have sharply increased during COVID-19 relative to UC claimants.