What are other countries doing to support their vulnerable citizens during the Covid-19 outbreak?
Have a look at our data visualisation comparison here and follow the narrative below.
Governments around the world have a duty to ensure the right to food for all citizens at all times, but the current crisis makes it an especially pressing requirement. For those that were already struggling with food insecurity, Covid-19 has exacerbated their situation, and many on the borderline have been pushed over the edge.
Whether due to medical or economic vulnerability, governments globally have recognised the need to step up to support their vulnerable citizens so they have sufficient access and means to buy food. This accompanying map* demonstrates examples of food policies and financial policies reportedly implemented in other countries to support children, the unemployed and the medically vulnerable in accessing food directly and indirectly through financial support.
The success and sufficiency of the policies are not evaluated here but rather we have identified policies being commonly employed around the world. An overview of policies from other countries offers a point of comparison for the UK and a chance to learn lessons from global approaches. From the map we can see that a range of different measures have been introduced across countries including food distribution and food stamp programmes, and financial support for unemployed citizens and families, as well as many others.
The UK Government has increased the value of Universal Credit by £20 per week, but Universal Credit and other existing policies are still not necessarily sufficient, and don’t reach everyone in need. A YouGov survey commissioned by the Food Foundation between 7-9th April 2020 showed that 43% of those who have lost income as a result of Covid-19 don’t believe themselves to be entitled to help. This leaves a huge number (approximately six million people) who may be unable to support themselves.
To try and ensure that everyone who needs it is able to get help, other countries are employing universal payment. For example, Spain is working on rolling out a universal basic income scheme to ensure that all citizens have some form of income without condition or restriction. In countries such as China, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States, one-off universal payments have been made to all citizens.
Over 100,000 people have signed a petition for the implementation of Universal Basic Income in the UK for all residents to ensure home and food security. The Scottish First Minister has also supported the introduction of a Universal Basic Income in the UK and says the pandemic has “strengthened immeasurably” the case for doing so. 100 UK MPs and Peers have also called for this to be introduced to stave off a deeper economic crisis. This would not only help those who are ineligible for Universal Credit but also support people who are currently waiting the five weeks to receive their Universal Credit payments.
4.2 million children in the UK were living in poverty before Covid-19, and the number is likely to have been exacerbated by the outbreak. The Food Foundation YouGov survey conducted in early April 2020 found that households with children were 50% more likely to be experiencing food insecurity than those without. This data suggests that children are especially vulnerable and their needs are not being fully met. Our new survey published on May 4th explores these issues in more detail.
Free school meals reached less than 50% of children in poverty (in England) before the outbreak, and now we are estimating that 33% of those who were being reached aren’t receiving a free school meal substitute due to implementation issues. The US and Northern Ireland are giving direct payments to families entitled to Free School Meals which avoids these administrative issues.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, there have been calls in the UK for the Child Benefit to be increased, and for the cap to be lifted. Other countries such as Italy and the US have introduced one off payments for all children, and Russia has introduced a one-off payment for children already on benefits. In real terms, Child Benefit in the UK is worth £6-7 less than in 2010, and just £10 more per week could reduce child poverty by five percentage points. It is also important to note that due to the benefit cap, many families aren’t benefitting from the recent increase in Universal Credit payment.
Citizens in different countries will have different needs, but we can learn from overseas policies and practices as to how the UK can most effectively respond to the crisis and follow the best practice examples seen in other countries.
*This information was correct as of April 17th 2020. This is not a comprehensive list of policies but is a snapshot based on available sources. For further details on many of these policies please see the following sources: IMF, OECD.