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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 FOUNDATION REPORT – COVID-19: What impacts are unemployment and the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme having on food insecurity in the UK?

This briefing report uses data from two YouGov surveys commissioned by the Food Foundation over 14-17 May 2020 and 6-8 July 2020 to examine how risk of food insecurity compares for adults who have been furloughed or newly without work since February 2020 compared to those who have remained in work. It finds that, after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, adults who were working in February 2020 but who reported being unemployed in May or July were about 2.5 times more likely to be experiencing food insecurity than those who remained in work (18.5% vs. 7.4%, respectively). An equivalent rise was not observed for adults who had been working in February but who were furloughed in May or June, suggesting this scheme has protected this group from the dramatic rise in food insecurity observed for those who became unemployed. However, compared to those who remained in employment, significantly higher rates of food insecurity were still observed among people who were furloughed (10.2% vs. 7.4%, respectively).

Based on worst-case projections from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility of a rise in unemployment to 13.2%, it is estimated that there will be 251,892 to 336,533 more working age adults made food insecure on account of transitions from furlough or employment to unemployment, respectively, in the coming six months. In light of this evidence, there is an urgent need to address the inadequacy of income protection for the newly unemployed.

Nine in ten parents say Government should provide healthy free school meals for all children in poverty

92% per cent of parents support extension of free school meal eligibility to all children living in very low-income families, according to new research from Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active. Parents also agree that eligibility should be based on income, regardless of immigration status (89%). 

The survey conducted with over 750 parents across the UK gained insights on how the Covid-19 lockdown has impacted their children’s food intake.  

  • One in three (31%) reported it was harder to maintain healthy eating habits whilst children were at home 
  • 7 in 10 parents reported that their children ate more snacks in lockdown 
  • Children ate more crisps (35%), ice creams and lollies (46%), cakes and biscuits (40%), sweets and chocolate (30%). 

When parents were asked their views on the Government’s commitment to fund free school meals and healthy food policies: 

  • 9 in 10 parents (90%) agreed that the Government should review eligibility to make free school meals available to ALL children in poverty. Parents also agreed that eligibility should be based on income, regardless of immigration status (89%). 
  • More than 8 in 10 parents (83%) would also like to see holiday food provision available for all children eligible for Free School Meals.   

The results of the research are in line with the call from the new child poverty campaign spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford for Government to support the three National Food Strategy recommendations on children’s food programmes in the Chancellor’s Spending review and Autumn Budget.    

For more information: Research briefing Covid-19 and Children’s Food: Parents’ Priorities for Building Back Better or a presentation of the full findings.

Independent Food Banks in Scotland report need for emergency food parcels doubled in lockdown

Despite the Scottish Government’s ‘cash first’ approach, independent food banks in Scotland have seen the need for their services double since the start of lockdown compared to last year’s April to July figures.  

Figures from the UK-wide Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) show that there has been a 108% rise in the number of emergency food parcels distributed in July 2020 compared to same month last year.  

70 independent food banks in 20 local authorities in Scotland distributed at least 182,863 emergency food parcels between February and July 2020  

Mary McGinley of Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank said: “These figures again show that an ever-increasing number of people in Scotland continue to live in poverty experiencing food insecurity. Going forward, more needs to be done to address the underlying cause of food insecurity and poverty in our communities.” 

DfE Updates Guidance on Free School Meals during Covid-19 for the Return to School

The Department for Education (DfE) has updated its guidance on providing school meals during COVID-19, accounting for the measures schools and caterers need to put in place for pupils returning to school from September. The guidance provides information on supporting Free School Meals (FSM) pupils who may be quarantined at home, details on managing universal infant free school meals, an update on school food contracts and more about the additional costs incurred before the summer holidays. The guidance makes clear that all meals must continue to comply with the School Food Standards and it also confirms the temporary extension of FSM to pupils from migrant families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) will continue through the Autumn term.

Poor Families Hit Hardest by Covid-19, Charity and Church Warns

A new joint report by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Church has warned of ‘significant deterioration’ in living conditions for low-income families due to Covid. The report ‘Poverty in the Pandemic: The Impact of Coronavirus on Low-income Families and Children’ was based on an online survey of 285 low-income families and in-depth interviews with 21 of these families between May and August 2020 and offers an insight into the day-to-day impact of Covid on families.

The report’s key finding is that eight out of ten of the families say that they are in a worse position because of the pandemic and nearly half (48 per cent) report having a debt problem that was new or worse than before. CPAG has urged Government to increase child benefit by £10 a week, extend free school meals to all families receiving universal credit or working-tax credit, and abolish the benefit cap to protect families whose employment has been disrupted by the crisis.

Campaigning Groups Urge Government to Support Low-Income Migrant Families

The Children’s Society has sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Education calling on the Government to permanently extend free school meals (FSM) to pupils from low-income migrant families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). The letter was signed by 60 organisations and charities including the Food Foundation. It supports the National Food Strategy’s Part One report recommendation to provide a ‘nutritional safety net’ by extending FSM to all families on Universal Credit but urges the Government to go further and ensure that children in poverty without recourse to public funds also have access to such meals, regardless of their parents’ immigration status.

The Government has temporarily extended FSM to children in some families affected by the NRPF condition while the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak impacts schools – a decision which the letter’s signatories have praised as a positive step.  However, there is uncertainty over how long this vital support will continue, and the group is concerned that when this help is withdrawn, thousands of children will lose out on what could be their only nutritious meal of the day.

UK’s Poorest Skip Meals and Go Hungry, Food Standards Watchdog Reveals

New findings from the Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides more evidence that the Coronavirus pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on the UK’s poorest population with as many as 10% in England, Northern Ireland and Wales reporting to have used foodbanks in June this year and 9% in July. This is an increase from 7% reported by the FSA for May. Reasons given for foodbank use in July were primarily due to economic hardship, with 25% reporting losing jobs, 27% reporting delays in benefits and 20% saying it was simply due to not having enough money.  

The FSA data also highlighted that those experiencing food insecurity or concerns about food affordability were more likely to resort to eating foods past their use-by-date.

The watchdog also published two reports of quantitative research that found food during the crisis to have been “a continual source of concern and worry” rather than nourishment and security for many families. 

Emily Miles, Chief Executive at FSA, said: “Our research shows that our food habits changed rapidly in lockdown and that food insecurity has become an issue for many people. These findings have implications for many aspects of Government policy such as food safety, nutrition, welfare, health and education.” 

“These reports speak of the brutal reality of being too poor to put a meal on the table and how debilitating this is for households with children,” said Anna Taylor, Food Foundation’s Executive Director. “All scenarios point to a worsening of this bleak situation unless the government acts now.” 

National Food Strategy calls for a ‘national safety net’ to combat hunger and poor diet and prioritise health of disadvantaged children in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic

Part One of the National Food Strategy, the first major review of the UK’s food policy in nearly 75 years, has been published with urgent recommendations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic to combat Britain’s poorest children getting “left behind” and describing the nation’s unhealthy diet as a “slow-motion disaster” and “medical emergency” that requires immediate attention. 
 
British entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, who was commissioned by Government last year to produce the independent review, argues in his review that Covid-19 has brought to light the painful cracks in the UK food system. He points to how the poorest people in our society are more likely to suffer from both hunger and obesity which can cause a lifetime of disadvantage and health problems.  
 
He praised the interventions unveiled by the Government’s Obesity Strategy, released earlier this week, on its restrictions of junk food advertising and BOGOF deals, but says much more is needed to tackle these problems.  
 
The Strategy reports that a poorly nourished child will struggle to concentrate and suffer from reduced educational prospects and that diet is a key determinant of a child’s life chances as it is essential for both physical and mental development.    
 
Four immediate measures are proposed for the UK Government to tackle child food poverty now: 
 
• Expansion of Free School Meals (FSM) to every child from a household on Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits) 
 
• Expansion of the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, ensuring summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of FSM 
 
• A 12-month extension of the ‘Food to the Vulnerable’ ministerial Task Force 
 
• Increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week and expanding the scheme to pregnant woman and households with children under 4 where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits 
 
The recommendations echo the asks from the Children’s Right2Food Charter, formed through findings of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry and led by the campaign’s Young Food Ambassadors. 
 
Author of the report, Henry Dimbleby, said: “Unless action is taken to improve our food system, many thousands will continue to suffer. This does not have to be the case. I welcome the Government’s action to tackle obesity, yet more must be done. Most urgently we must ensure that our most disadvantaged children – who are already at risk of being left behind by this crisis can access healthy food. The very foundation of equality of opportunity has to be a nutritious diet.” 
 
Jo Ralling, Head of Youth Engagement and Communications at the Food Foundation, said: “Henry Dimbleby’s trailblazing report is a game-changer and really highlights the importance of prioritising children’s health especially for the most vulnerable and poorest in society.  If the UK is to lead the way globally, it is vitally important that we change our food system to tackle inequality to ensure every child has access to a diet on which they can thrive. 
 
Lindsay Graham, Children’s Right2Food Campaigner, said: “Today we are seeing real progress and I hope that Government moves quickly to make sure that children and young people in every part of England regardless of income have access to a healthy and affordable diet.” 
 
Dev Sharman, 15, Young Food Ambassador from Leicester, said: “We have been campaigning for this day for over 2 years and it feels that finally we are being listened to. We now want to see this happen for real and for Government to roll out the proposals as soon as possible. The poorest children in the UK are going hungry every day and this has to stop.” 

MPs urge Government to appoint a new minister for food insecurity

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) has published a new Covid-19 and Food Supply report recognising that the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for millions of people. 


The Committee calls on the Government to appoint a new cross-departmental Minister for Food Security who would collect robust data and implement sustainable change.   

With use of UK foodbanks almost doubling during lockdown, the report, produced by a cross-party group of MPs, recognises food insecurity and food waste as significant problems that were widespread throughout the UK even before the pandemic.  


The report also calls on the Government to continue to fund the £5-million-a-year FareShare project to redistribute ofood, that would otherwise be wasted, to frontline community groups.  Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said: “Once the pandemic set in, Defra responded well. However, there were misunderstandings in Government about where – and how – people were going to get their food just before and during lockdown. Rather than “panic”, it was entirely reasonable that many people would be buying much more food in shops and online. Excluding convenience stores and discount retailers from the national voucher scheme for free school meals also showed a significant misunderstanding of where families need to shop.” 
  Find out more: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmenvfru/263/26302.htm