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.

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.

The Guardian reports that 950,000 have applied for Universal Credit in two weeks of UK lockdown

“Nearly a million people have successfully applied for Universal Credit in the last fortnight, in a rush to welfare support that reveals the depth of the jobs crisis caused by the UK’s lockdown.

“Despite the government’s job support schemes offering 80% of earnings to employees and the self-employed who cannot work, 950,000 people applied for the main income support benefit between 16 and 31 March. There are normally about 100,000 applicants for the benefit in any given two-week period.” Before the crisis 2.8 million were registered for Universal Credit.

Read the full piece here.

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.