One of the reasons for setting up an unemployment insurance scheme is to allow job losers to smooth consumption. We test for the impact of unemployment benefits on changes in household food expenditure of individuals who have recently experienced a job loss. We also study the relationship between unemployment benefits and the financial wealth of the unemployed. From our empirical analysis we conclude that, for households without financial wealth at the time of job loss, unemployment benefits help to smooth food consumption. For households running debt before job loss, there is evidence that lower replacement rates lead to a postponement of debt repayment. © The London School of Economics and Political Science 2005.