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.

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.”

Response to government free school meal plans: the Food Foundation joins others in writing to the Department for Education again to call for clarity around voucher scheme and holiday food insecurity provisions ahead of Easter

The Food Foundation and children’s food experts sign a letter to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson CBE MP, requesting that the government extend term-time provision for children eligible for free school meals into the upcoming Easter holidays to ensure young people have access to enough nutritious food during the break.

The letter also asks for clarity around the use of vouchers for free school meals. The approach was recommended to schools the previous week, but many remain unclear on what the guidance means in practical terms. There are concerns that the current free school meal allowance of £2.30 a meal will not cover food costs per child when it is transferred to vouchers, because families cannot benefit from economies of scale.

The letter also raises questions about how families issued with vouchers will be supported to choose the ingredients for, prepare and cook nutritious meals for their children.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said: “1.3 million children depend on school meals for nourishment. These children are from the poorest homes in the country. Parents and children alike tell us how much they rely on these meals for vital sustenance. Families will face loss of income and illness over the coming months, and holiday provision clubs will be limited by logistical challenges, so it’s crucial that schools have the funding and support they need to feed vulnerable young people in their communities. This includes children with No Recourse to Public Funds, and those who are living in poverty but are still not eligible for Free School Meals.”

Read the letter here.

Approximately one million undocumented migrants in the UK could be at risk of food insecurity

The Guardian runs an article about concerns that “approximately a million undocumented migrants living under the radar in the UK could be at risk not only of contracting Covid-19 but also of starvation because of the crisis created by the pandemic.”

Read the full piece here.

The Children’s Future Food Inquiry final report profiles the challenges migrant children with No Recourse to Public Funds encounter in accessing adequate sustenance. Children with precarious immigration status are already more likely to be facing destitution, and will be unable to take up the kind of statutory support that some families living in poverty will receive during the COVID-19 crisis.

Campaigners encourage government to invest in school caterers to provide substitute meals rather than vouchers

School Food Matters and other children’s food charities write to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson CBE MP, highlighting that school caterers are best placed to feed children well during these difficult times, and that school staff will be able to keep in touch with vulnerable children who may have multiple needs. The letter encourages the government to use free school meal funding to invest in catering services where possible, rather than turning to supermarket vouchers first.

Read the letter here.

Schools close: government publishes plans for supporting children eligible for free school meals

Following the announcement on March 18th that schools would be closed from the end of that week, the government publishes its plans to support pupils eligible for free school meals, announcing that students will be offered meals or vouchers as an alternative if they can no longer attend school due to coronavirus measures.