Vulnerable Groups

Who is at risk and how are they being helped?

The government has identified 1.5 million people in the UK who are at very high medical risk of the virus, but millions more will require support: the pandemic is taking hold in a Britain where too many people already struggle to afford enough nutritious food and this is being compounded by difficulties in getting to shops or getting food deliveries. Without the right help to deal with the conditions created by COVID-19, citizens who are economically vulnerable and food insecure may find themselves battling illness, hunger and debt. As a vulnerable group already at greater risk of food insecurity, children and young people could face further barriers to accessing affordable, nutritious food as a result of COVID-19.

We’ll be identifying the vulnerable groups, investigating how their needs are being addressed and finding opportunities to improve the response. In order to understand how COVID-19 is affecting children in the UK, we’ll be following developments in policy designed to protect them, and will create platforms from which young people can tell us about their experience of lockdown, and what they’re eating in quarantine.

Take a look at our breakdown of vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 crisis here, and find out more about the Food Foundation’s work on the Children’s #Right2Food Campaign.

Return to our homepage to view the COVID-19 Tracker in full.

Food parcels for vulnerable forfeited as Government changes lockdown shielding programme

The Government has updated its guidance on shielding and the clinically vulnerable, signalling there will be no resumption of Government-backed food parcels for the second lockdown from 5 November.

Under new lockdown rules, anyone over the age of 60 will be classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ – meaning almost 5.9million additional people are in the ‘at risk ‘category.

During the first national lockdown, under the shielding programme, 2.2 million people were supported with food parcels and deliveries of medication to ensure the most at risk in the community were kept at home. This time around, those at higher risk are being advised to minimise contact with others and ask for help with groceries.

Charities hit out over the lack of support after new guidance, saying the medically vulnerable have been overlooked. Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “It’s important that the clinically extremely vulnerable group are able to access food in a safe way through priority deliveries or volunteer networks. However, if this is not possible, the government and councils should be providing a fallback option, such as food parcel deliveries.”

Increasing number of ‘newly hungry’ rely on foodbanks

Food aid charities have warned of the emergence of a “newly hungry” group of people who previously enjoyed good jobs and comfortable incomes who are now turning to food banks and welfare benefits for the first time during the pandemic.

A report by Feeding Britain and the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) found that an influx of new middle-class families, who had not previously worried about putting food on the table were relying on their members’ services.

Research from before Covid-19 showed that the majority of those using food banks were extremely poor or destitute. The widening demographic of users seen in recent months reveals the hard-hitting socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis.

The report suggested that the rise had come from people falling through gaps in the social support system, an increased strain on families, and huge changes in the jobs market.

New kids meals map launched to support Marcus Rashford campaign

A new map has been launched today to support families and children over the October half-term. The website is designed to show the businesses, community organisations and councils who have announced that they will be providing free meals to vulnerable children over the October half-term.  

In just a few days following the launch, the map has more than 1,000 pins of sites where children and families can receive food support. 

The map has been built by communications agency PLMR who are supporting the #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign. Businesses, local authorities and charity organisations can make contact via the website to be added to the map.  

The map shows the unprecedented response to the call to action from Marcus Rashford’s campaign after it went viral on social media in response to a parliamentary vote not to extend the Free School Meals over the October half-term. 

The parliamentary petition launched by Marcus Rashford has also received a huge increase in public support. 

MPs reject extension of Free School Meals over half-term in England

A motion to provide 1.4 million children eligible for Free School Meals in England with provision during the half-term and forthcoming holidays until Easter 2021 has been rejected by MPs.

MPs voted to reject Labour’s motion by 322 votes to 261 on grounds that poor families were gaining ample support through the benefit system. Five Tory MPs rebelled against the government to support extending free school meals.

While the government has ruled out extending support over half-term and beyond in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all confirmed they will offer food support for disadvantaged children until next spring.

Earlier this year, when schools were closed during the spring lockdown, families were issued with vouchers, which continued through the summer holidays after the footballer Marcus Rashford pushed the government to U-turn.

Following the result of the vote, Marcus Rashford, who is spearheading the #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, issued a statement saying; “We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers – our views are being clouded by political affiliation.”

Education Leaders Urge Ministers for Action on Free School Meals and Holiday Provision

More than 30 influential education leaders have written to Ministers urging the Government to act on the policy asks in Part 1 of the National Food Strategy related to children’s food programmes.

General Secretaries of leading headteachers unions, Governance Association and 17 leaders of the largest multi-academy trusts (representing 400 schools) all joined forces to urge the Government to respond to tackle the growing issue of child food poverty.

The letter, addressed to Rishi Sunak, The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education as well as Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, underlines how a healthy school meal “helps improve children’s concentration during afternoon lessons, with positive knock-on effects on classroom behaviour”. Education leaders call for “appropriate, long-term, mechanisms must be put into place in the holidays to ensure that children don’t fall behind and have an unfair disadvantage when coming back to school.”

The letter asks Ministers to expand Free School Meals to all children from families on Universal Credit or equivalent benefits, including children from families with No Recourse to Public Funds, as well as extend holiday activity and food provision to all children in receipt of Free School Meals.

Such asks are in line with the National Food Strategy – an independent review commissioned by Government – and the current #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign spearheaded by Marcus Rashford.

Isolating university students complain of poor-quality food packages

Students stuck in halls in lockdown across the UK have complained about the low-quality food provided to them by their universities, some charged hundred of pounds for meal packages that include baked beans and instant noodles.  

With outbreaks of Covid-19 at more that 90 universities, students have said that they are struggling to feed themselves due to a lack of supermarket delivery slots, limited kitchen facilities and lack of space to stockpile food for their two weeks of isolation. 

Many have responded to universities’ patchy support by posting photos of their unpalatable emergency food packs on social media. They have complained they have no option but to pay high prices to their university for low-quality food, some of which takes days to arrive. 

Benefit claimants at risk of going hungry if uplift removed

National poverty charity Turn2us has warned against removing the value uplift to Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic after a survey of people claiming Universal Credit found that almost two-thirds (62%) said they’d struggle to afford food without the £20 uplift. The £20 uplift was introduced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to support people who were struggling with loss of income.

Quotes from service users on what the consequences of the uplift being removed would be for them include:

“I would need to choose between paying bills and buying food. I had to do this before the uplift.”

“I’ve been able to buy more fresh food and not cheap fatty foods. I’ll have to go back to a poor diet and obesity.” 

Mapping responses to risk of rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis across the UK

The Food Vulnerability During Covid-19 Phase One Report from the University of Sheffield and King’s College London maps out the responses to mitigate the risks of rising food insecurity during the early phase of the Covid-19 crisis across the UK. It highlights the vast scale of work done across governments, the third sector and the food industry to enhance food access for vulnerable people and the impact of these interventions. 

The main findings were: 

1) Responses to food insecurity have been on a scale and of a complexity not seen in recent times in the UK 

2) Whilst there have been major initiatives for people across the UK (e.g. the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme), responses have varied across constituent countries 

3) To fully understand responses to threats to household food security, systems mapping must be done at the local level 

4) Different population groups have faced intersecting risks of compromised financial and physical access to food. 

The next phase of the national mapping and monitoring work will involve exploring questions of how interventions worked in practice (what was actually delivered, how it was delivered and what was its impact) to learn key lessons from the response. 

Official data show redundancies rise since start of lockdown

Redundancies in the UK have risen at the sharpest rate since 2009, according to official data from the Office on National Statistics showing the first significant increase in unemployment since the start of the lockdown. The figures shows a 58,000 increase in redundancies year-on-year and an increase of 48,000 when compared to the previous quarter, pushing the unemployment rate up to 4.1 per cent. 

More timely data from the tax authority showed that the number of employees on payrolls was down by 695,000 in August compared with March 2020, the ONS said.  The number of people estimated to be away from work or furloughed was still more than 5 million in July 2020, with over 2.5 million of these being away for three months or more. There were also around 250,000 people away from work because of the pandemic and receiving no pay in July 2020.