Over the last decade, recorded levels of destitution and food insecurity have risen sharply across the UK. This research shows that some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in our society are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity.
Over the last decade, research has shown that the number of all households living in destitution has increased sharply, with food insecurity becoming a serious public and political concern, especially in the face of rising food, energy and general living costs. This has coincided with a rapid growth in the number of food banks across the country, with many people unable to afford even the most basic items, such as food.
This report, kindly funded by the abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, looks into the impact of food insecurity in homeless young people. It explores their experiences through in-depth interviews with young people and stakeholders, focus groups held at homelessness services across the country, surveys, and analysis of the nutritional intake of young people’s food diaries to reflect the challenges of this age group and the issues they are facing living on a low income.
Our research highlights the challenges faced by homeless young people and the need for additional support to meet rising living and housing costs. Alarmingly, our poll of a nationally representative sample of the general youth (16-24) population also found high levels of food insecurity for young people across the country – suggesting that many thousands of young people may be struggling to access the food they need.
Key findings and recommendations
- Young people (aged 16-25) living independently are some of the most financially vulnerable groups in society; 1 in 4 (26 per cent) vulnerable young people have £20 or less of monthly income left after rent and bills, leaving them to live off £5 or less a week – this data comes from a survey of 209 young people with experiences of homelessness.
- 3 out of 5 (62 per cent) vulnerable young people believe they lack regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.
- A third (30 per cent) of vulnerable young people often go without food for a whole day due to lack of money.
- Lack of a healthy and balanced diet has led to a variety of health problems, such as loss of weight, poor eating habits, mismanagement of existing health issues and poor mental health. In the last 12 months, 3 out of 5 (63 per cent) vulnerable young people lost weight because there was not enough money for food.
- Uprate benefits to reflect the real cost of living to ensure vulnerable households do not face a real-terms cut to their incomes.
- Introduce a new Youth Independence Payment of £16.06 per week for young people living independently without family support. This would raise their overall Universal Credit entitlement to the rate that over 25s receive in recognition that they face the same living costs.
- Provide more targeted support to young people living independently to protect them from fuel poverty, such as by extending winter fuel payments and working with energy providers to target support for young people.
- Provide targeted support around food insecurity by ensuring there is awareness and knowledge amongst professionals that work directly with young people.