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.

Government to provide free school meals for migrant children but many still missing out

The UK Government had agreed to temporarily extend eligibility for free school meals to children subject to no recourse to public funds (NRPF) during the coronavirus pandemic, but many migrant families will still miss out.

New guidance published by Department for Education (DfE) on 22 April confirms that thousands of children, who were denied free school meal support because of their parent’s immigration status before school closure, will be able to benefit from meal provisions.

However, only children receiving support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989  – a form of local authority provision which is notoriously difficult to access – or Section 4 Asylum Act 1999, will be able to claim the centrally funded meal provisions, leaving many migrant children still excluded, reports the Independent. The entitlement also covers children of Zambrano carers and children of those granted leave to remain status.

According to the Hackney Migrant Centre, many NRPF families who were already vulnerable to poverty and homelessness before the pandemic have lost their jobs since lockdown or been subject to shorter working shorter hours. Due to their NRPF status, these families are particularly vulnerable as they are not able to access the safety net of other welfare benefits or the government’s wage subsidy scheme, Universal Credit.

The Government’s decision comes after threats of legal action by a law firm defending a failed asylum seeker and her daughter who were denied access to a free school meal. Many charities and campaigners are calling for more action from the government to make the free school meal entitlement for NRPF children permanent given the likelihood of them and their families experiencing ongoing and exceptionally high levels of food insecurity.


Scottish Government has announced emergency funding for food projects across the country  

The Scottish Government has announced emergency funding for food projects across the country. Around £700,000 has been allocated from the £70 million Scottish Food Fund to 19 projects, including a £350,000 grant to provide 8,500 emergency food deliveries to people most in need in 17 local authority areas over the next three months. 

A further 18 schemes will share £400,000 to provide emergency food through a range of projects working with minority ethnic households, family support groups or mental health teams. The Food Fund comprises £30 million for food deliveries for the ‘shielded’ groups at highest clinical risk, and a further £30 million to local authorities for free school meals and food support for older people, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women.

The remaining £10 million is for critical third sector and community response organisations, which includes funding (so far of £500,000 each) for Social Bite, FareShare and Cash for Kids. 

Disabled people left off coronavirus vulnerable list go without food

The government has set up an online register to reach “extremely vulnerable” households in England (those who have been told to shield for 12 weeks), either offering them food parcels via their local authority or liaising with major supermarkets to give priority for online delivery. But a large numbers of disabled and older people are being excluded from the scheme due to the highly selective criteria.

Find out more in the Guardian.


Welsh Government scraps rollout of nationwide supermarket voucher scheme for children eligible for free school meals

Wales have scrapped plans to launch a free school meal substitute voucher scheme similar to the programme rolled out in England, leaving councils to provide support at a local level. The Welsh Government is expected to announce an alternative plan within days.

Online briefing on hunger statistics

Today the Food Foundation and Dr Rachel Loopstra discussed the latest results of our YouGov survey on food insecurity research during the Covid-19 crisis.

The recording of the webinar can be found HERE and the slide deck HERE. Also, Dr Rachel Loopstra from King’s College London has done an in-depth analysis of the figures in this preliminary report.

We will be hosting more webinars in the upcoming weeks, so please do keep an eye out for them by following us on Twitter and email to join the mailing list.

Further delays to children’s food vouchers

Schools are not receiving free school meal vouchers because of problems with the Edenred website. Attempts to log on to the site are still being met with error messages, and the telephone queues are over an hour long. This means a knock-on effect for families who will experience a delay in getting the £15 weekly voucher for each of their children.

New Food Foundation poll: three million in Britain are going hungry just three weeks into lockdown

The Financial Times reports on the Food Foundation’s most recent YouGov poll. The survey found than three million people (6%) in Great Britain have gone hungry since lockdown began three weeks ago, reporting that someone in their household has been unable to eat, despite being hungry, because they did not have enough food. This is our second poll since lockdown, and in this one we asked about experiences of food insecurity using standard questions. 

Read more about these figures here, and take a look at Dr Rachel Loopstra’s in-depth analysis of the figures in this preliminary report.

The poll, which was commissioned in partnership with the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) found that 1.5 million (3%) have gone a whole day without eating since the lockdown came into effect, and 7.1 million (14%) say someone in their household has had to reduce or skip meals because they could not access or afford sufficient sustenance.

Click over to the Research & Data tab to have a look at data visualisations of our findings.

Department for Education confirms continued support for the National School Breakfast Programme

The Department for Education has updated its COVID-19 free school meals guidance to confirm that the National School Breakfast Programme, which was as yet unaddressed, will continue to receive funding:

“Alongside our national approach to supporting free school meal pupils, we are committed to supporting schools and their pupils who would usually benefit from the DfE breakfast club programme. The with the schools on the programme, and are working closely with them to reach children who would normally receive a healthy breakfast at school.

“Schools on the programme can choose to support eligible children in the way which works best for them, this may include parents collecting food parcels or breakfast food ‘drop offs’. This should be arranged alongside the schools’ wider support for children on free school meals. Schools must follow Public Health England’s advice on social distancing at all times.”

The full guidance is available here.

Government announces free school meal vouchers WILL now be available over Easter

Following criticism of its confirmation that the free school meal replacement vouchers would only be available during term time, Michael Gove MP said at today’s briefing: “Parents have kept their children at home wherever possible, so we head into the Easter holiday weeks with school attendance having been around 2 per cent, ensuring the most vulnerable can be cared for.

“For children eligible for free school meals, vouchers will be available through the holidays to support household income.” So far this support falls short of the summer holidays.

Schools Week writes about it in more detail.