THE Food Foundation has published a briefing, funded by The Nuffield Foundation, that investigates food insecurity and inequalities experienced by disabled people.

The Foundation has been conducting nationally representative surveys to monitor levels of food insecurity since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim is to track the scale of the problem and identify groups of the population who are most at risk, to know who most needs support targeted towards them.

The Food Foundation’s latest survey finds that:

  • Nearly four in 10 households with an adult very limited by disability experienced food insecurity in June 2023.
  • Households with a disabled person are substantially more likely to experience food insecurity than those without.
  • These disproportionate rates of food insecurity are in large part a result of income inequalities experienced by disabled people. Disabled people are less likely to be employed and on average are paid lower salaries.
  • Many disabled people are reliant in part, or entirely, on benefits which often do not provide sufficient levels of payment to cover essential costs.
  • Disabled people also often have higher expenditure requirements in other essential areas which squeezes the available food budget.
  • Other challenges include physical access to food such as from transport issues or challenges with food preparation leading to a reliance on more processed, convenience food.

In the first two weeks of the pandemic, the survey found people very limited by disability to be three times as likely to experience food insecurity as those without a disability (36.5 per cent vs 12.0 per cent). This inequality has widened further, reaching over five times as high in January 2022 (28.5 per cent compared with 5.1 per cent).

The most recent survey found that food insecurity amongst disabled households persists. Nearly four in 10 (37.7 per cent) households with an adult very limited by disability experienced food insecurity in June 2023 compared with just over one in 10 (13.3 per cent) households with no disability.

Previous data from Scope found that one in four (27 per cent) working aged disabled people are living in poverty. Government data shows the employment rate for people with a disability is 52.6 per cent compared to 82.5 per cent for people without a disability.

When disabled people are in employment, they often have lower incomes and less job security than people without – 27 per cent of disabled workers are in severely insecure work compared with 19 per cent of non-disabled workers.

The Resolution Foundation found that household income for adults with a disability was on average 30 per cent lower than those without, including disability payments.

Many disabled people are reliant on social security but the briefing shows the benefits system does not sufficiently support them. Disabled people often have higher expenditure requirements in other essential areas which squeezes available budget for food.

Some estimates report that households with a disabled adult or child face costs of almost £1,000 extra per month. This can include higher energy bills due to increased need for heating, running medical equipment and additional washing.

The briefing shows that financial barriers are not the only challenges that disabled people can face in accessing food. Other challenges include physical access to food from transport issues or inaccessible food environments.

The Food Foundation is calling for greater policy action to support disabled people and their families. In particular, benefit levels (Universal Credit and PIP) need to take into account the cost of a healthy diet and other essentials including the additional costs that disabled people experience.

Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager at The Food Foundation, said: “It is unacceptable that there are such high rates of food insecurity amongst disabled people and that they have had to suffer disproportionately during COVID and the cost of living crises. There is no excuse for not giving disabled people the support they need. Policy makers need to take action now to reduce these inequalities and protect disabled people from unfair hardships.”

Fazilet Hadi, Head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said: “This report puts a spotlight on the disproportionate impact of food poverty on disabled people with the most severe impairments and health conditions. Systemic inequalities, spiralling costs, inadequate social security levels and barriers to getting around and or preparing food are all resulting in disabled people going without food. This is not something which society should tolerate. We need government, retailers and third sector organisations to take action to prevent this injustice.”

The briefing looks at some of the common experiences of disabled people faced with food insecurity. Amanda, who is disabled, said: “I just mainly choose prepared food, easy to cook things, and I use my microwave a lot more than before because I have difficulty bending down to my oven… and obviously getting something out is difficult and then standing back up again. My weight has decreased a lot because I only really eat when I’m very hungry now and at really irregular times.”

Bella, who is disabled and lives with her partner who is also disabled, said: “I can’t really go to a supermarket. Even when I could, you know, I could drag myself to the supermarket, but I needed somebody to push the trolley, carry the basket, pick the things off the shelves and then pack them up and carry them.

“We can’t make savings on fuel, both of our conditions, means that the cold affects us so we have to have the heating on when we need to. And we run the dialysis machine, which is like running a washing machine for four hours, four times a week. It uses a lot of water. And there’s nothing we can do about that.”

John McDonnell MP, the Former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “The soaring rates of food insecurity amongst disabled people in modern Britain is a disgrace. Disabled people in our society were disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and they have continued to suffer even more than most through the cost of living crisis.

“All the political parties must now come together to create a consensus to end the poverty and indignity that too many disabled people have to endure. There is no excuse for allowing the status quo to continue.”

* Read: Food insecurity and inequalities experienced by disabled people here.

* Source: The Food Foundation