Food poverty in the UK

George Osborne will give his Autumn statement to the House of Commons this Thursday. He will be upbeat about ‘recovery’ and GDP growth. What he will ignore is the fact that the recovery is very patchy, based on rising house prices, a mini consumer spending spree in certain areas (e.g. London) and increasing consumer public debt within the context of a low wage, precarious job market. These are part of the UK’s social determinants of health. The ’causes of the causes’ of ill health.

Admissions for malnutrition, BMJ graph

Watch out for entreaties to those will little resources to learn to cook and spend their money more wisely – in other words, “if your child goes hungry, it is your fault”.  This is what I call the default ‘Daily Mail’ individualist analysis which only gets you so far.  Use your sociological imaginations to analyse what is going on – how do you link the personal trouble of going hungry and being admitted for malnutrition with the public issue of food poverty in the UK today? The graph published by the BMJ shows that in 2008 when the UK experienced the start of the financial collapse, bank bail outs and the beginning of austerity policies aimed at reducing welfare spending, there were a little over 3000 admissions for malnutrition. In 2012 that had risen to about 5,500 admissions.

If only one person was admitted due to malnutrition we should look to the character and situation of that person for a proper understanding and analysis of why. When admissions have increased to 5,500 we need to look to wider explanations that go beyond the individual. What structural transformations are occurring which provide a fuller understanding of people’s experiences?

Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of society and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals” (C Wright Mills 1959).


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