Almost half of 16-25 year olds going to bed hungry

20 July 2022
  • Almost half of 16-25 year olds (49%) have gone to bed hungry in the last twelve months.
  • Almost half of young people (45%) say their income is not enough to get by.
  • Almost a quarter of young people surveyed (23%) have been forced to miss work or education due to a lack of food.

New research by the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint has found food insecurity is having a devastating impact on 16-25 year olds across the UK. Almost half (49%) of young people have been forced to go to bed hungry in the last twelve months and over half (54%) have struggled to buy food.

Many young people are struggling so much to buy food that they’re sacrificing meals to pay other essentials costs. Just under a third of young people (31%) cited that bills were the main reason for skipping meals followed closely by the cost of rent (30%), and feeding their children (29%).

Centrepoint commissioned Opinium to carry out a UK national poll to determine the level of food insecurity among the general population of 16 to 25 year olds. The sample consisted of 2000 young people and was completed between March and April 2022.

The lack of food is having a long term impact on a young people’s physical health. Four in ten (43%) young people who are receiving benefits or financial support from the government aren’t getting enough nutrients for a healthy life style. A third (33%) of young people cannot access the food needed for normal growth and a healthy lifestyle.

It is also having an impact on their future prospects. Centrepoint found that almost a quarter (23%) of young people are now being forced to miss work or education due to a lack of food.  

Tasha, 24 from Derbyshire, was supported by Centrepoint partner, Broxtowe Youth Homelessness (BYH). She now lives with her partner and two year old child; both adults claim Universal Credit.

Commenting on how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting her family, Tasha said: “Because of the cost of everything going up, I’m doing long days at work just to get more food for the family. By doing this I don’t get to see my daughter as much. When it comes to meals, there are a lot of days when I don’t eat or have little to eat as I want my daughter to have more to eat than me.

“Even with Universal Credit, we never have enough for a lot of things. It only pays some of the bills and my wage goes on bills and food and clothes for my daughter.”

The survey found that just under half (45%) of young people say their income is not enough to get by. Young people are disproportionately impacted by low rates of Universal Credit because they receive around 23% less than claimants over 25.[1] This was compounded with the £20-a-week cut last year, which meant younger claimants lost over a quarter of their income.

Last month Centrepoint found that over a quarter of vulnerable young people, being supported by homelessness charities, are living off less than £5 a week after their rent and bills have been paid. These young people have approximately £4.60 a week to pay for food, travel and leisure activities. Unsurprisingly, just under a third of these young people (30%) often went without food for a whole day due to a lack of money. The findings are from a survey of 209 young people aged 16-25 years old, living in homelessness hostels or otherwise supported by Centrepoint and the charity’s partner organisations.

Heather Paterson, Centrepoint’s Senior Dietitian, said:

“It’s clear to see that young people are bearing the brunt of the cost-of living crisis. The fact that half of 16-25 year olds are going hungry should not be underrated or overlooked.

“The futures of young people are at significant risk because of this injustice, and I’m not surprised that so many young people feel they have no other choice but to skip school, college or work. This is causing them to miss opportunities that will improve their quality of life overall. At Centrepoint we’re seeing first-hand that hunger, malnourishment and dehydration causes exhaustion, and young people are struggling to focus and concentrate. Additionally, the stress of worrying about where food will come from next, is debilitating.

“In the longer term, not having access to a regular balanced diet has serious consequences on all of the bodies systems; from gut health to heart strength, and mental health. No one’s immune system should be tested like this. This way of living is simply not sustainable.

“During the pandemic the £20 Universal Credit uplift for claimants under 25, was a lifeline for young people and their money was going much further. The weekly food shop was less of a concern and they had the capacity to further their education, their careers and work towards their life goals. If we want to see young people living a high quality of life, then the government must put their money towards increasing Universal Credit for all claimants, including 16-25 year olds.”

Karen Barker, Head of Policy and Research at abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said:

“It’s not right that anyone should be going hungry in Britain today. The cost of living crisis is making life more difficult for everyone, but this research shows that for too many young people, the consequences are catastrophic. These effects are heart-breaking now, but may have longer-term consequences too - if they can’t afford to eat, it’s impossible to imagine how they will afford to save for a home or a pension.”

“While the additional government funding announced last month to help with living costs is welcome, young people need enduring adequate income, in addition to temporary measures, if they are to build secure stable lives.”

[1] From April 2022, claimants under 25 receive a standard allowance of £265.31 per month. This is 23.2% less than the £334.91 received by over-25s.


Read the report