Findings also showed households with the lowest income were hit hardest, with respondents more likely to report making at least one change to eating arrangements in the last 12 months for financial reasons (58% vs. 40% of those in the highest group).
Furthermore, 11% of those in the lowest income group said that they kept leftovers longer, compared with 3% of those in the highest income households.
Food charities and think tanks called on the Government to intervene as they said the findings added further evidence that low-income families struggled daily with access to healthy food.
“These data are truly shocking,” said Robin Hinks, research and policy officer at the Food Foundation.
“To take so many British people off the breadline, the Government must drive up uptake of the Healthy Start programme for young and low income mothers, tackle gaps in food provision during school holidays, and review our welfare policies to protect the diets of society’s most vulnerable.”
The survey is part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) biennial efforts to assess consumer attitudes to food.
It asked over 3000 people in 2016 their behaviours, attitudes and knowledge relating to food safety and food issues.
Numbers are ‘shocking’
In response to the FSA’s report, Simon Shaw, food poverty campaign coordinator at Sustain, an alliance for better food and farming, added: “Whilst we welcome that the FSA has taken steps to measure household food insecurity, these new figures are a shocking sign of the number of people who struggle to eat a decent diet.
“Sadly from those we meet week in week out, this is an increasingly large group of people and includes those in low paid work.
“Whilst this data is useful, we now need central government to start to regularly measure the scale of this problem as other countries do.”
The findings mirror that of a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which found that approximately 10% of adults experienced food insecurity in 2014.
Based on a telephone survey of 1,000 adults in the UK, the report also estimated that 8.4 million people were living in households reporting having insufficient food in the UK in 2014, the 6th largest economy in the world.
“The FSA report also highlights that women are more likely to be food insecure than men - this correlates with the harsh social security cuts imposed over the last 8 years - 85% of which have come directly from women’s pockets,” said Elli Kontorravdis, policy and campaigns manager at Nourish Scotland.
The Scottish Government have separately committed to monitoring household food insecurity through the Scottish Health Survey, with the first figures released in September 2017.
Food and You
The FSA’s report entitled ‘Food and You’ is the latest part of ongoing findings after previous waves were conducted in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
Wave 4 (2016) of the survey included new sections on wider food issues of concern.
While more than 80% of households never worried about food scarcity or being able to eat proper meals in the last year, variations were noted according to income groups.
Unemployed subjects (47%) responded that they often or sometimes worried about their food supplies running out before they got more money. This was in contrast to the 7% of subjects in the top quartile.
Overall, around three-quarters surveyed said they experienced no anxiety about consistently accessing adequate food.
Approximately 13% of subjects said that they had the occasional problem but this did not reduce the quality or quantity of their food intake.