The Food basic service aims to ensure that food insecurity is eliminated.
Due to the very different circumstances of each community and geographic area this service will depend on local design and delivery to a greater extent than any other UBS.
In the 2017 report examined 3 options for the Food service, and chose Option 2 to model.
Option 1: Food bank replacement
The Trussell Trust operates 1,373 food banks which handed out 1,182,954 parcels of food, each with 3 days supply of food, in the 12 months from April 2016 to April 2017. This equates to 10.65M meals at 9 meals per package.
The Independent Food Aid Network estimates that there are an addition 621 food banks operating in the UK (excluding informal outlets), which suggests that there is an additional 50% of demand over and above the Trussell Trust numbers. Using the JRF MIS budgets averaged across and weighted for household types suggests a budget of £1.87 per meal per person.
Combining these numbers, and adding a 15% overhead cost, suggests that a total budget of £34.3M would replace food bank use, supplying 15.7M meals a year.
Even if we guesstimate the effect of “open access” in which a referral would not be needed for food bank access, and assume that demand would be twice the current recorded demand, the total cost would $68.7M.
Neither the costs nor the effects are significant from a macro economic perspective, and while we believe that delivering this service would be socially preferable to reliance on charities, it does not satisfy the qualifications for a UBS. While this option may satisfy the definition of a UBS if access is open, it does meet the safety requirement that a UBS aims to achieve in order to liberate citizens from fear and enable a flexible labour market.
Option 2: Removing “food insecurity” as identified by FSA survey 2016
The Food Standards Authority conducts a nationwide survey every 2 years that includes questions which capture the extent of “food insecurity”, defined as having been concerned about not having food for the household at some point in the previous 12 months.
The FSA survey results and Food Foundation suggest that 8% of households experience food insecurity at some point in a year. This equates to 2.2M households, a similar number to our estimate for open foodbank access.
To bring the scope of this service option up to the level we would expect from a UBS we have used a 100% take-up rate in the food insecure population and a provision rate of one third of meals.
This service would provide 1,873.9M meals a year, costing £4Bn a year, using the same per person per meal costs as above and a 15% overhead.
Option 3: A full community food program
A more fully fledged Food UBS would aim to provide a community service with completely open access for all, meeting needs as diverse as an informal UBS survey from 2013 suggests of 48% participation for 7 meals a week averaged across the population. This option embodies the kind of social institutional fabric that would support and develop a truly cohesive society in which UBS provide shared experiences and communal environments. We might be some way from being able to even visualise such a service, but it is instructive to understand what such a program would look like, and its cost and distributional effects.
A community food program would necessarily be locally designed and delivered, and would include many varieties of food service in every locality, from public canteens to food boxes for in-home preparation. Different options would cater for different dietary preferences (e.g. vegetarian) and different modalities (e.g. take away or eat in). Some communities might offer more options and others less, all of which would be decided by, and managed by, an accountable local democracy (see Local Democracy section below).
This option would have a total cost of around £21.2Bn, with values to households ranging from £45/week in the lowest deciles to £1.63/week in the highest deciles. Our cursory distributional analysis assumes lower take up rates in higher deciles, with 5% of those in the highest decile only using the service for 0.5 meals/week, while those in the lowest deciles would use 14 meals/week.
In practice this kind of UBS is predicated in the existence of much more devolved government than we have today, and would need to emerge voluntarily from communities that saw value in its provision. As such it is an aspirational model rather than an option which we can reasonably propose at this time.