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 joins others in writing to the Department for Education again about holiday food insecurity

In a letter to Gavin Williamson CBE MP coordinated by School Food Matters we draw attention to the fact that, come the Easter holidays, millions of children could need statutory help in order to access enough food:

“The loss of free school meals during school holidays typically adds £30-40 per week to household food spending. With even more families affected through loss of income and illness, the need to maintain support to feed children during the holidays has become imperative.”

Read the letter in full here.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families responds to letters from food charities about free school meal provision

School Food Matters receives a response to the letters, signed by the Food Foundation, that have been sent to the Department for Education. Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, wrote a letter acknowledging our concerns and highlighting guidance for the public food sector industry about the consequences of voucher distribution where school caterers could be used instead, and resulting in demand for school meals falling.


The Minister also addressed questions about the value of the vouchers that would be available, but confirmed that they are only for term time, which will mean many children could face food insecurity over the Easter holiday: “Whilst the vouchers are for term time only, if there is a local arrangement to supply food that the school and the suppliers intend to continue over this period then that can be agreed and managed locally. This would need to be manageable within schools’ existing resources.”

Read the full letter here.

Government free school meal voucher scheme launches, but will not extend into Easter holidays

The government has published guidance indicating that children eligible for free school meals will benefit from a national voucher scheme allowing them to continue to access meals whilst they stay at home. Where schools cannot continue to provide meals for collection or delivery, they are advised to provide every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets while schools are closed due to coronavirus.

The guidance stipulated that ‘vouchers are for term-time only’, meaning 1.3 million children could be facing food insecurity over the Easter holidays.

Michael Gove promises coordinated, minister-led response for all vulnerable groups

At today’s briefing, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove MP said, “We want to…ensure that we support not just the 1.5 million most vulnerable to the disease, but all those who need our help through this crisis. Those without social support, those in tough economic circumstances, those who need the visible hand of friendship at a challenging time. That’s why my cabinet colleague George Eustice, and the Food and Farming Minister Victoria Prentis will be leading work with food suppliers, retailers, local authorities and voluntary groups to support our neighbours in need.”  This is good news and we look forward to seeing what commitments will follow. Hopefully it is the start of the Food Aid Task Force which we have been calling for.

Mayor of London calls for removal of NRPF conditions and Universal Credit wait

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has written to the Prime Minister calling on the Government to support those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and those on low incomes. The Mayor urges the Government to remove the NRPF condition and the five-week wait for Universal Credit to help Londoners get the support they need in unprecedented circumstances.  It was very good to see this – we showed in the Children’s Future Food Inquiry that children with no recourse to public funds were extremely vulnerable to food insecurity.

Read the Mayor’s letter here.

Quality of government food parcels is subject to postcode lottery

Manchester Evening News draws attention to the inadequate nutritional content of government food parcels delivered in Rochdale, which compared unfavourably with the parcels received by vulnerable parties in other parts of England. On the day of delivery in Rochdale, only 44 parcels were distributed, despite there being 129 people in the borough who had requested emergency supplies.

Read the article in the Manchester Evening News here.

Defra posted a blog about the first batch of parcels distributed, stating that “the packages contain items such as coffee, tea, pasta, tinned goods, cereal, potatoes, two types of fruit and other basic supplies such as loo roll.”

But recipients of government parcels tweeted about the contents of their delivery, which included individual hotel-style shampoo bottles, individual tea bag and biscuit sachets and miniature milk cartons. Responses on social media questioned how the recipient would use the ingredients to make an adequate meal.

Concerns about the quality of food made available for shielded groups were raised by Local Authority representatives in several London boroughs, with nutritionists struggling to develop meal ideas based on the ingredients included, and flagging that limited fruit and vegetables were supplied. It was reported in early April that Public Health England was eventually brought on board to give nutrition guidance.

Further concerns were raised by charities and local authorities about the fact that many of the packages for shielded groups were not culturally appropriate, and did not accommodate dietary requirements.

Free school meal substitute lunches contain almost no fruit or veg

An article in The Sun shows free school meal substitute packed lunches are low on fruit and veg in parts of the country.  The extent to which food parcels contain fresh fruit and veg is something to keep an eye on – it’s likely that these products will be harder to secure and manage for emergency provision with important implications for our health.

Read the full piece here.

Families in the UK are borrowing money to buy food just a week into lockdown: new Food Foundation data in the Guardian

Today, the Guardian reported on our YouGov survey, which found that millions of people in the UK are already struggling to get the food they need and falling into debt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1.5 million adults in Britain say they cannot obtain enough food, 53% of NHS workers are worried about getting food, and half of parents with children eligible for Free School Meals have not received any substitute meals to keep their children fed, despite government assurances that they would provide food vouchers or parcels. This means that 830,000 children could be going without daily sustenance on which they usually rely.

Read our blog about the survey here.


In light of the problems identified by our poll, the Food Foundation is calling for the government to establish a food aid task force to deliver a coordinated response with local authorities, charities and businesses.

We need national food aid coordination mechanism which is fast-moving, delivery-focused and accountable. It should be chaired by a Minister and involve several departments including DWP, DfE, DEFRA, MHCLG and the Cabinet Office, as well as the LGA, GLA and the Food Foundation, Sustain, the Trussell Trust, IFAN and Fareshare.

It must do the following:

  1. Determine who is in need of financial assistance and who is in need of food assistance and the relative size and characteristics of these groups – i.e. perform an assessment.
  2. Identify the role of central government, local authorities, the private sector, national charities, the MoD, local resilience teams and community-based organisations in delivering this assistance.
  3. Provide guidance, where necessary, to support delivery and avoid duplication of effort.
  4. Map and monitor the response to ensure critical gaps in delivery are addressed.
  5. Secure resources to ensure each stakeholder can do its job (where necessary linking community groups to funders and wholesalers).
  6. Create a mechanism for best practice sharing and troubleshooting among local authorities and community groups on delivery.
  7. Oversee a public and voluntary groups communications plan.
  8. Communicate the central government helpline.
  9. Reassure the public on a regular basis in order to reduce panic buying and public unrest.
  10. Transparently document all decisions and learning to inform future responses.

Food Foundation analysis in the Guardian: “Millions to need food aid in days as virus exposes UK supply”

The Food Foundation’s breakdown of groups vulnerable to food insecurity as a result of the pressures created by COVID-19 shows that the government’s free food parcel scheme is a good start, but won’t be enough. 1.5 million people have been identified as being officially vulnerable and in need of assistance, but the Guardian’s coverage of the Food Foundation’s analysis highlights that  “millions of people in the UK will need food aid in the coming days… as the coronavirus outbreak threatens to quickly spiral into a crisis of hunger unless the government acts immediately to reinvent the way we feed ourselves. In just a few weeks, the pandemic has exposed the extraordinary fragility of the food system.”