Broken Plate by Alice Benskin

The Government launched a report in Mid June on food poverty and free school meals in the UK. The report states that in 2021/22 there were 4.7 million people, or 7% of the UK population in food poverty, including 12% of children. The report further identified that in 2022/23, the Trussell Trust (food bank) supplied 2.99 million three-day emergency food parcels, the highest recorded number and an increase of 37% on the previous year.

Following this report, the Food Foundation (2023) published the “Broken Plate” report highlighting the emergency in the UK regarding food; citing anxiety, affordability and sustainability as three key issues driving a failing food system. The report highlights how all these factors compound to exert strain on NHS services.

The report goes on to say:

“This is not a result of individual failure – not a lack of will power nor a shortage of knowledge – but rather the consequence of a food system which traps us into eating in a way that is harmful to our health and harmful to our planet. For people with limited time and money, breaking free from this trap is an even greater challenge.

The most vulnerable in the UK to being impacted are those from low socioeconomic backgrounds and individuals experiencing financial hardships, which has been further exacerbated due to the rising cost of living.  A You Gov Survey reported this year that  in January 2023, 17.7% of households in the UK were food insecure (ate less or went a day without eating because they couldn’t access or afford food), up from 8.8% in January 2022 and 7.4% in January 2021. 16.5% of people had eaten less or skipped meals, 11.0% had not eaten when they were hungry, and 6.1% had gone a whole day without eating.

The Broken Plate reports that the most deprived fifth of adults consume less fruit and veg (37% less), oily fish (54% less) and dietary fibre (17% less) than the least deprived fifth. The report further demonstrates that the most deprived fifth of the population would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the Government recommended healthy diet.

A paper last year highlighted that over 50% of calories are coming from ultra processed foods in the average Brit’s diet (Madruga et al., 2022). Children are particularly vulnerable, as recent research revealed that a third of children are consuming less than 1 portion of vegetables per day. Additionally only 7% of breakfast cereals which are marketed to young children are low in sugar, and 97% of snacks marketed towards babies and toddlers have nutritional claims, despite being high in sugar for this age group.  Overall, due to health inequalities and poor dietary qualities, life expectancy for individuals in the most deprived tenth of the population is 19 years lower for women and 18 years lower for men than in the least deprived tenth.

There are no simple solutions for attenuating this crisis in the UK. Rather, it calls for close working between the government, the NHS, food industry, charities, environmental organisations, and media outlets to address key issues preventing affordability, accessibility and sustainability.


Food Foundation, 2023. “Broken Plate Report”.

Madruga, M., Martínez Steele, E. et al. (2022). Trends in food consumption according to the degree of food processing among the UK population over 11 years. British Journal of Nutrition.

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