Food insecurity and debt are the new reality under lockdown

New data from our fourth YouGov survey since lockdown began has found that food insecurity and debt are the new reality under lockdown, with four million adults borrowing money and ethnic minorities most at risk of food poverty.

Food insecurity affecting nearly five million adults in the UK with no plan for government help

  • Nearly five million adults in the UK (4.9 million1) (9%) are still experiencing food insecurity, despite the fact that supermarket shelves are now better stocked. 1.7 million1  (12%) children live in these households.
  • This is an improvement on the 16% of households who experienced food insecurity when lockdown was first introduced, but levels of food insecurity, over the last four weeks, are still almost 250% higher than pre-Covid-19 levels.3
  • 4 million (8%) households have borrowed money or gone into debt as a result of the crisis
    • One million more people are now borrowing money than at the end of March, one week into lockdown. Food Foundation data published on March 27th showed that 3 million (6%) were already borrowing money or taking out personal loans.
  • 880,0001 (2%) adults are receiving food parcels being delivered by government or charitable services, while 4.4 million1 (8%) are relying on neighbours, family, friends and volunteers for help them get food.
  • Of those self-isolating for 12 weeks, 27% are relying on neighbours, friends and families and volunteers and 7% are receiving government or charity food parcels.

The government urgently needs a national plan in place for dealing with food insecurity being driven by the crisis. It recently announced £16m for food charities but our data shows the level of need far out strips the capacity of frontline charities.

Ethnic minority and disabled households are most at risk for food insecurity

  • Compared to the average, households which face at least 1.5 times greater than average levels of food insecurity are:
    • Households with a BAME adult compared to respondent of white ethnicity
    • Households with a disabled adult
    • Households with children dependent on free school meals
    • Households where adults are self-isolating

2.6 million1 food insecure people still aren’t getting the help they need, don’t know where to turn and feel ashamed

  • Of those who were experiencing food insecurity, more than half (54%) or 2.6 million, have not received any offers of help (via leaflets, social media, phone, friends or family). 800,000 (16%) tried to get help but were unsuccessful. 1.1 million1 (24%) who required assistance did find help.
  • 5 million (52%) have not tried to get help, either because they did not know who to ask, they didn’t want to ask, or because they felt ashamed of asking for support
  • Of those facing food insecurity, 930,000 (19%) said their local council was helping people struggling to access enough good food to eat.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said: “It’s clear that the efforts of government, local authorities and front-line charities are making a difference but the scale of the response falls far short of the need which people are experiencing. Many are suffering in silence and behind closed doors.  Food insecurity is a measure of severe material deprivation and eating a decent diet is critical for protecting the nation’s long-term health.  It’s high time we had a national plan for tackling this problem and immediately providing the lifeline assistance which people desperately need.”

  1. Calculations made by the Food Foundation using mid-year population estimates.
  2. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4,352 households. Fieldwork, unless otherwise stated, was undertaken between 14-17 May2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults 18+.
  3. Comparable adult food insecurity levels were 3.8% in the Food and You survey, 2018.

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