Five million people in households with children have experienced food insecurity since lockdown

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation 

Today we release the third of our surveys on how people are managing to secure the food they need during the Covid-19 crisis.  This survey, conducted  April 24th-29th – a month after lockdown came into effect – focuses exclusively on a UK representative sample of households with children under 18.

The headline findings are that:

Five million people in the UK living in households with children under 18 have experienced food insecurity since the lockdown started.  1.8 million of these experienced food insecurity solely due to the lack of supply of food in shops, leaving 3.2 million people (11% of households) suffering from food insecurity due to other issues such as loss of income or isolation.

This is double the level of food insecurity among households with children reported by the Food Standards Agency in 2018 (5.7%).

These figures come as the Trussell Trust reports an 81% increase in people needing support from food banks at the end of March compared with the same time last year. Demand from children for food bank services has increased by 121%.

As a result of this, children have been directly affected.  Parents have not been able to shield them from food insecurity.  The parents of two million children said they had experienced one or more forms of food insecurity, and more than 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family couldn’t access sufficient food during lockdown.

You can hear directly from children about their experiences here.

Children are at higher risk in families with members who are self-isolating, medically vulnerable members, single parents, where a child has a disability, and in large households.  We also found that households which included NHS workers and their children had an elevated risk.

31% of children entitled to free school meals (0.5million) are still not getting any substitute; and of the 621,000 children who were accessing free breakfast clubs before the crisis, only 136,000 are getting a substitute.

Half (46%) of the food insecure households in our sample have lost income as a result of the crisis and many have not found substitutes for this lost income.

An overview of the findings can be found here (round 4).


What needs to be done?

  • The Government should be exploring all possible routes for financial support to households with children – child benefit, universal credit, welfare assistance grants –  and removing the barriers to getting this support (like the 5 week wait on Universal Credit, benefit cap, child limit etc) quickly. Child benefit is a prime candidate:  75% of food insecure households in our sample receive it.
  • DFE, Local authorities and schools should rapidly support children on free school meals and put equal effort into supporting schools to distribute food parcels (with the added benefits of being able to check-in with vulnerable families) as fixing the voucher system which is still causing problems. At the same time, we need to be ensuring that households becoming newly eligible for Free School Meals and Healthy Start vouchers get access quickly. We should start thinking now about extending vouchers / support for these children through half term and the summer holiday.  It would make absolutely no sense to turn the tap off at the official “end of  term”. The Welsh Government has already committed to do this.
  • The Northwest has once again, alongside London, come out with elevated risk. We need a clear picture of local authority capacity across the country to identify where there are gaps in in-kind provision for isolation problems (which remain a key driver of food insecurity).  And we still need a national coordination mechanism which would maintain an overview of needs and how they are being addressed.  We also need to quickly move to a situation where best practice between local authorities and their voluntary sector partners can be shared.

What’s new in this survey?

  • In this survey we only sampled parents or guardians with children <18 in their households allowing us to examine the total number of children affected by food insecurity since lockdown. Previous surveys have only reported numbers of adults affected.
  • This also allowed us to ask specifically about children’s experiences of food insecurity using a standard set of questions used internationally:
    • Below are several statements that some families have made about their current food situation…Which, if any, of the following statements apply to you?
      Grid questions:
      We have relied on only a few kinds of low-cost food to feed the child(ren) because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more
      The child(ren) have not had balanced meals because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more
      The child(ren) have not eaten enough because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more
      The child(ren) have skipped meals because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more
  • We also asked more detailed questions about employment status pre-crisis and now; as well as income loss and new supplements to income
  • We used the same recall period for food insecurity as our last survey. This was because it was practically very difficult to do otherwise (over such a short time period). This means the food insecurity includes some hardship caused by shortages on the shelves which we know was a bigger problem in the first few weeks of the crisis. However, if shortages affected people’s consumption (ie led to skipping meals etc) it suggests they had low stocks at home and were more vulnerable in the first place. Our next survey will have a recall period from Easter so we can assess whether food security is improving or not.
  • The survey was conducted 24-29 April – a month after lockdown; 2284 parents completed the survey. This survey included Northern Ireland.  Our last survey was only GB.  It’s an online survey as before.

I am looking for...