Research spotlight

The UK Veterans Tri-Service Food Insecurity Study

Food insecurity is defined as lacking access to reasonably priced, nutritious food of adequate quality. It is considered a consequence of poverty, with individuals reporting reducing the quality and choice of food, restricting portion sizes or missing meals to prioritise essential bills, such as mortgages or rent [1].

The prevalence of food insecurity across the UK varies between 8% to 17.7%. Research conducted as part of the Map of Need and the MONARCH (Map of Need Aggregate ResearCH) study on the ex-Armed Forces [2] demonstrated that Scottish Veterans were statistically clustered into areas of high deprivation, experiencing similar challenges to that of the wider population in these areas. Military Service injury or disability was strongly associated with areas of high use of benefits from the Soldiers', Sailors' & Airmen's Families Association (SSAFA), and in those areas, high unemployment was also a significant factor to consider. Apart from this initial study, there has been limited exploration of poverty, financial hardship, or food insecurity within the ex-Armed Forces population.

This study aimed to:

  • Identify levels of food security experienced by Royal Navy and Royal Marine (RNRM), Army, and Royal Air Force (RAF) ex-Service personnel and their families.
  • Identify the health status and Service-related injury of RNRM, Army, and RAF Veterans who are in receipt of financial assistance from a service charity.
  • To identify the variables associated with experiences of food insecurity in the UK Veteran population.
  • Identify areas of the UK in which food poverty is the most prevalent among the ex-Armed Forces Veteran population; i.e. geospatial distribution.

This was a cross-sectional study using an online survey to identify the self-reported instances of food insecurity and health status of UK Veterans and their families. The outcome of interest was household levels of food insecurity as determined by two levels: food secure and food insecure.

The first phase of the project aimed to identify the prevalence of food insecurity and the health status of the ex-Armed Forces community before identifying key factors associated with food insecurity.

The second phase investigated the geospatial distribution of survey recipients in comparison to data provided by the 2021 census along with the most recent index of multiple deprivation (IMD), to enable comparison with the general population. Focus is placed on areas of high relative deprivation and the location of survey respondents reporting instances of food insecurity and low/high levels of mental wellbeing.

Participants were invited to complete the survey if they were a UK Veteran or a family member of a UK Veteran. There were 908 initial responses to the online survey. Eighteen participants declined to participate, and 2 participants did not complete the survey. A further 7 responses were excluded due to still serving (Regulars and Reserves) at the time of survey completion, it being unclear whether they were a Veteran/family member or were not UK Veterans.

The study included 881 participants (Table 1) from across the entire UK who had previously served in the RNRM, Army and the RAF. The mean age was 66.58 years, 83.9% were male, 16.1% were female and 93.8% identified as white ethnicity. The study population included 21.9% of participants who had served as Officers and 78.1% who had served in other ranks. The mean length of Service was 18.99 years and the mean length of time since discharge from the Armed Forces was 30 years.

Only a small percentage of the sample were in receipt of benefits. Regarding military benefits, 6.4% of survey respondents received support from The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, 18.7% received a War Pension, 24.7% were receiving financial support from the Department of Work and Pensions and 3.2% received financial assistance from a service charity.

In total, 16.9% of survey respondents were part of food-insecure households, with 12% of these also experiencing some element of hunger. Therefore, 83.1% of survey respondents were living in food-secure households.

A YouGov survey by the Food Foundation in 2023[3], a food poverty charity, found that in June 2023, 17.0% of households in the UK population were ‘food insecure’ (ate less or went a day without eating because they couldn’t access or afford food), up from 8.8% in January 2022 and 7.4% in January 2021. This would suggest that food insecurity within the Veteran population reflects a similar level of food insecurity in the general population.

The mean mental wellbeing score for survey respondents was 23.38 which was lower than the general population mean of 23.5. However, less than half of the survey respondents reported having good health (37.7%), with 49.4% of survey respondents having reported a long-standing medical condition not compensated by the Armed Forces Compensations Scheme and/or War Pension Scheme. Thus the participants in this study were not representative of the wider Veteran population in terms of health status due to the high rates of reported long-standing medical conditions. 

Using 2021 Census data to determine the total number of respondents who have previously served in the Armed Forces, it was possible to determine if survey responses provided a representative sample relative to the total geospatial distribution of the Veteran population. Geospatial analysis (Figure 1) demonstrated that the survey results are spatially representative of the Veteran population, and where they are found in England and Wales (currently there is no census data available for Scotland and Northern Ireland).

There was a weak positive correlation where Local Authorities with high deprivation, were more likely to have Veterans experiencing food insecurity.

Statistical analysis identified key factors associated with food insecurity. Veterans in this study with the factors identified below are more likely to be food insecure.

  • Of working age (i.e. below 66 years old and therefore under the current statutory retirement age)
  • Not being married
  • Living in rented accommodation
  • Non-Officer rank at time of discharge
  • Receiving other benefits

Of significant note, there was no significant relationship between food insecurity and gender or food insecurity and the branch of the Armed Forces a respondent served in


Whilst there are instances of food insecurity within the ex-Armed Forces population, this appears to reflect that of the general population.

These findings indicate the complexity of the different factors associated with food insecurity and their relationship with socio-demographic factors. By understanding the factors associated with food insecurity, service providers can develop targeted interventions and support for individuals at significant risk as opposed to solely supporting those already in crisis.

Whilst the sample size for the geospatial analysis reduced the possibility for an intensive analysis, the ability to further analyse the census data could provide more opportunity to identify those with the risk factors relating to food insecurity.

In addition, more work is needed to further explore the factors associated with food insecurity, particularly in the long term. 

Thank you to Professor Matt Kiernan and the team at the Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families for conducting this important research exploring food insecurity, and writing this spotlight article. 


[1] Pettifer, K., & Patel, M. (2022). Household Food Insecurity.

[2] Kiernan, M. D., Rodrigues, M., Mann, E., Stretesky, P., & Defeyter, M. (2022). The Map of Need: identifying and predicting the spatial distribution of financial hardship in Scotland’s Veteran community. BMJ Mil Health, 168(1), 57-63. [Available from:]

[3] The Food Foundation. Food Insecurity Tracking: Round 12 2023 [Available from:



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