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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

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 

 

Government Announces Far-Reaching New Obesity Strategy in Response to Covid

The Government has announced a wide-ranging set of measures to combat excess weight and obesity, many of which will help protect children’s diets and improve health of the nation in response to growing evidence of linking excess weight to increased risk from Covid-19.  
 
 The measures announced are: 
• New laws to ban advertising of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) before the 9pm TV watershed for the whole of the UK (with further consultation towards a total ban for online adverts). 
• Restrictions on in-store ‘buy one get one free’ offers on HFSS food as well as a stop to checkout/entrance/aisle end promotional display deals. 
• Calories to be displayed on restaurant and takeaway menus to encourage healthier choices when dining out (with a consultation to launch on calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks). 
• A step forward on front-of-pack labelling with a new consultation on the current traffic-light labelling system. 
• A new ‘Better Health’ campaign to encourage better food choices. 
Responding to the Government’s announcement, the Food Foundation’s Executive Director Anna Taylor said; “Today the Government took a bold step towards a better future for our children. This decision puts the UK ahead of the rest of the world in efforts to support our children to eat well. Now, we must make sure these commitments become a reality ASAP.” 

Over half of teachers fear a rise in child hunger on return to school this September

Fifty-seven per cent of teachers anticipate there will be an increase in the number of children arriving at school hungry in September 2020, according to a new survey by the charity Magic Breakfast. In schools with above average levels of disadvantage, this rises to sixty-four per cent of teachers. 
The YouGov poll of 725 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Scotland found that sixty-four per cent of teachers anticipate that hunger will harm efforts to catch children up with learning, rising to 79 per cent in schools with higher levels of disadvantage.  
The findings come amid calls for the Department for Education to sustain free school meal holiday provision long-term and extend the free school breakfasts programme to children at risk of hunger. The Government currently funds a national breakfast programme however it only reaches about 20 per cent of the 1.8 million school-age children at risk of hunger in the UK and is due to end in March 2021.