Vulnerable Groups

Food Insecurity: Who is at risk and what are the solutions?

In 2020, headlines on foodbank Britain and children missing meals propelled food insecurity into the spotlight. But the issue is nothing new – it was highly prevalent before Covid-19 and will continue beyond it.

How does food insecurity happen and what can be done to prevent it? Our tracker will try and find answers to these important questions. We’ll identify barriers to accessing an affordable, nutritious meal and follow the latest developments in the policies designed to help groups most at risk: those on low incomes, the unemployed, people with disabilities, BAME communities and children and families.

We’ll collate the latest evidence and lived experiences to better understand the impact of diet inequalities on people’s lives and find opportunities for better responses and lasting solutions.

View our UK Food Tracker in full

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. 


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.