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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

Scotland set to prioritise children’s rights

Scotland could become the first UK nation to directly incorporate UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) directly into law. Stage three of the bill reading takes place today (16.03.2021).

If passed, children’s rights will be at the heart of Scottish decision-making when new laws and policies are created.

Politicians will be held to account on important matters such as poverty and inequality, must consider international law each time.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Scotland stands on the cusp of a revolution in children’s rights. This legislation will transform how we listen to children and take their rights into account. It will put children’s voices at the heart of decision-making that affects their lives and it will require public authorities to comply with children’s rights.”

Government extends funding for breakfast clubs until 2023

The Department for Education has announced it will be extending funding for breakfast clubs until 2023 with the aim of helping ‘make sure thousands of children have a healthy start to the day’. An estimated £24 million will be made available to continue supporting breakfast clubs over the next two years.

The Government had initially committed launched a programme in 2018 with £26 million in funding. A further £11.8 million was allocated in 2020 to extend the scheme to this year.

Reacting to the statement Alysa Remtulla, head of policy and campaigns at Magic Breakfast, said: “Magic Breakfast welcomes any new funding for school breakfast provision as we continue on our mission to ensure that no child in the UK is too hungry to learn. The funding announced by the DfE today, however, falls short of the proposed School Breakfast Bill. The DfE are proposing to support approximately 2,500 schools with short-term funding, however, we believe there are approximately 8,700 schools in disadvantaged areas of England with children at risk of hunger who would benefit from permanent and secure breakfast funding.” 

Last month the Food Foundation joined Magic Breakfast and more than 30 charities to write a letter to Vicky Ford MP, asking for a new funding commitment from Government on breakfasts. In October 2020, Emma-Lewell Buck MP presented the School Breakfast Bill to Parliament and it passed its first reading. However, due to Covid-19 disrupting Parliament it is unlikely the Bill will now pass.

The Food Foundation releases a new report show the impact on the pandemic on food insecurity

The report urges Government to make food security a priority in recovery planning and move away from short-term solutions, food banks and emergency food aid.

 

Headline Statistics

  • Food insecurity remains higher than pre-Covid levels affecting an estimated 7 million adults (9% of households) over the last six months. This compares to pre-Covid levels of 7.6%.
  • 55% of those experiencing food insecurity (an estimated 2.5 million adults) said it was because they did not have enough money for food, 31% said it was due to isolation, 23% said it was lack of access and supply and 8% cited other reasons in the last six months.
  • Despite Government’s financial support schemes and the Universal Credit £20 uplift, 22% of households have experienced a drop in income since Feb 2020.
  • Households with children have higher levels of food insecurity compared to those without. An estimated 2.3 million children live in households that have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months (12% of households with children).
  • The situation is even worse in households with children on Free School Meals. 41% have reported food insecurity in the past 6 months.

 

Other findings:

Food Sector Workers

  • In the past 6 months, 14% of food sector workers experienced food insecurity compared with 9% of non-food sector workers.

 

BAME Communities

  • Compared to white ethnicities, BAME households have consistently been twice as likely to be food insecure. Data in January showed 20% of BAME households have experienced food insecurity in the last six months compared to 9% of white British households.

 

Disability and Health Problems

  • At the start of the pandemic, adults identifying as being limited a lot by health problems or a disability were three times more likely to be food insecure than those without. These inequalities have increased even further. In January, they were five times more likely than those without.

 

Recommendations:

The new report urges Government to make food security a priority to ensure the long-term health and resilience of the nation.

The 3 key recommendations in the report are:

  1. An urgent review of Free School Meals: prioritising ensuring the eligibility threshold does not exclude any disadvantaged children from accessing a healthy meal.
  2. Businesses should pay at least the Real Living Wage and the Government should make the £20 Universal credit uplift permanent.
  3. Designate authority in Government to be responsible for monitoring and tackling food insecurity.

You can read the full report here and see more data from our surveys under the “Research and Data” tab of this Tracker. Further information on the responses from children reported during the webinar can be seen here. A recording of the webinar held to discuss the findings can be accessed via this link.

Two UK cities back call to make food a legal right

City leaders across the UK are teaming up to call on the Government to make food a legal right and “end the scandal of food poverty for good.

Liverpool councillors were the first to vote in support of making access to food a legal right, driven by Ian Byrne MP.

Manchester is now the second UK city to get behind the Right to Food campaign and Birmingham is set to follow after pressure from local community groups.

Manchester councillor Bev Craig said the city will send a letter to the Government asking lawmakers to turn the campaign’s asks into action. This would include making a legal right to food to be included in the National Food Strategy, England’s biggest food policy shake-up in 75 years, and placing responsibility on the Government to end national hunger.

Lunches to landfill

Food destined for millions of school meals could be going to waste, due to the short notice of lockdown. According to the Huffington Post, fresh and perishable ingredients for a week’s worth of school meals, up to 15m, may have to be disposed of due to children – except those of key workers and vulnerable pupils – moving to remote learning until at least the end of February.

Free School Meals during School Closure

On 4 January, during the announcement of a third national lockdown, the Prime Minister assured the nation of extra support to provide free school meal during school closure. In the House of Commons, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson gave further detail, saying: “We will provide extra funding to support schools to provide food parcels or meals to eligible children…Where schools cannot offer food parcels or use local solutions, we will ensure a national voucher scheme.” No further detail has yet been given by the Government on how and when food parcels and a national voucher scheme will be rolled out.

Date Set for Junk Food Promotion Ban

Supermarkets in England will be banned from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts and multibuy offers on junk food from April 2022, the Government has confirmed. The restrictions, first trialed last July in the Government’s new Obesity Plan, will be subject to an 8-week consultation to gather industry views on enforcement and sanctions. Checkout restrictions will also apply to other sales-boosting locations such as store entrances and end of aisles. Similar rules will also apply online (e.g suggesting items at checkout payment pages.)

Evaluating Holiday, Activity and Food Programme

Findings from an independent evaluation of the 2019 holiday activities and food programme (HAF) have been released by the Department for Education after being delayed due to Covid-19. They highlight a range of benefits for young people who took part in the Government holiday scheme, from increasing knowledge and skills to accessing nutritional education and a healthy lunch. An additional report gives evidence of the impact of holiday learning loss and holiday hunger to demonstrate the importance of holiday clubs. Reviewing 110 pieces of UK and international literature, evidence shows the negative effects of repeated episodes of hunger on children’s mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as on attainment and achievement in school.

7/12 Update – New CPAG, JRF and Save The Children Data, and SNP extend commitment to Free School Meals to all primary school students

Child Poverty Action Group released new data last week showing than at least 2 in 5 school-age children (1.3 million) who live below the poverty line are not currently entitled to Free School Meals. They do not qualify due to the income threshold being too low (in England, Scotland and Wales it is £7,400; in Ireland it is £14,000). They also estimate a further 100,000 children across the UK do not qualify due to having no recourse to public funds. Extending the number of children eligible for Free School Meals is one of the three National Food Strategy recommendations that we have been campaigning for alongside Marcus Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Task Force.  

The Scottish National Party (SNP) have pledged in their Manifesto to provide Free School Meals for all primary school pupils, covering not only lunch but also breakfast. Currently Universal Infant Free School Meals (lunch) are provided to all children in primary 1 to 3, as is the case in England, but this new pledge will extend this provision to the other 4 years as well. They have also recognised that “hunger doesn’t take a holiday” and so Free School Meals will also cover the holiday period. 

Save the Children have conducted a survey revealing that 37% of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit will rely on charity food parcels or meals over Christmas. 60% of families on these benefits have reported that they will go into debt over the Christmas period. 65% have said they will cut down on essential like food and heating to cover the costs of Christmas.  

A new report by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation has found that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, 2.4 million people experienced destitution, including 550,000 children. This was an increase of over 50% in 2 years. Destitution means the household cannot afford two or more of the essentials needed to live such as food, shelter, heating and clothing. They also conducted interviews with people experiencing destitution and found that during the pandemic people were not able to access food banks due to referral agencies such as Job Centres not operating in the usual way.  

The National Audit Office have published an investigation into the Department for Education’s Free School Meal voucher scheme that ran during the Covid-19 school closures. The report highlights many of the issues that parents faced in accessing the scheme, including lengthy delays and invalid voucher codes, but also notes that action was taken to improve the scheme’s capacity and performance. DfE do not know exactly how many children benefited from the scheme but it is estimated to be around 850,000 to 900,000 children. They also do not know what profit Edenred (the company delivering the scheme) made from the scheme.