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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.

Click here to see our UK Food Tracker in full.

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.  

Weekly Update: Week 23/11 – Northern Ireland commits to Holiday Provision, Ban Unhealthy Food Advertising Online Consultation Guidance on Winter Grant Scheme Published

The Department of Education (DE) in Northern Ireland has announced it will pay for free school meals for eligible children during the school holidays until April 2022. Funding of £40 million, which will begin from the Christmas break, will be benefit families of approximately 100,000 children who will receive payments when children are off school.

The announcement comes after the Department for Education (DfE) committed to rolling out in 2021 the Holiday and Activity Programme to benefit disadvantaged children during the Easter and summer holidays in England. During Christmas and until Easter next year, the Covid Winter Grant Scheme will be in place – newly published guidance confirms that funding, administered via Local Authorities, can be distributed by vouchers or grants and will provide assistance to vulnerable households affected by Covid, including families whose children access Free School Meals during term time.

Meanwhile, in a bid to tackle the growing child obesity crisis, the Government has launched a new consultation on proposals to ban online adverts promoting unhealthy high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods.  The consultation was announced as a measure as part of the government’s tackling obesity strategy announced in July. The consultation will run for six weeks – closing 11.59pm 22nd December.

Serving up children’s health: What ends up on pupils’ plates?

It’s been seven years since the School Food Plan’s introduction of School Food Standards so that “children develop healthy eating habits and…get the energy and nutrition they need across the whole school day”. Achieving the baseline School Food Standards is now a minimum requirement for schools and caterers to secure balanced plates for every pupil.

However, a new report by Guys and St Thomas’s Charity shows that, while many schools and canteens embrace these mandatory Standards, many struggle to apply them in practice.

What were the findings?

Key findings

  1. There’s a postcode lottery in the quality of school food our children are eating.
  2. Improving the quality of our school food is an important lever to close the gaps in between children from the lowest income households and the highest.
  3. Complex funding structures and a lack of national guidance on good procurement means saving money is often prioritised by caterers and schools over children’s health.
  4. Standards are not monitored at school level leaving compliance is patchy and nutritional quality compromised.

How was this researched?

On-the-ground research across the school day was conducted by specialist food consultant Cookwise in 60 inner-city primary and secondary schools in London. It was designed to examine various areas likely to impact on healthy weight, including the effectiveness/existence food and drink policies at school, portion sizes, training received by kitchen and school staff, and the provision of water fountains.

What needs to happen?

National and local government have a greater role to play in supporting schools to adequately fulfil their responsibilities to provide nutritious school food.

Key recommendations in the report prioritise three areas:

1. Better Procurement: school food procurement guidelines should be adapted so contracts weight value towards nutritional quality as well as cost

2. New funding mechanism and eligibility: longer-term call is for universal free breakfast and lunches in primary and secondary school; short-term is for the National Food Strategy recommendations on extending eligibility of Free School Meals to be in place. Transparent and simple funding mechanisms are needed.

Monitoring and accountability: mechanisms needed to hold schools and caterers to account for meeting school food standards in practice with more transparency around the level of nutritional quality per pound spent.

Read the report in full here

Food parcels for vulnerable forfeited as Government changes lockdown shielding programme

The Government has updated its guidance on shielding and the clinically vulnerable, signalling there will be no resumption of Government-backed food parcels for the second lockdown from 5 November.

Under new lockdown rules, anyone over the age of 60 will be classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ – meaning almost 5.9million additional people are in the ‘at risk ‘category.

During the first national lockdown, under the shielding programme, 2.2 million people were supported with food parcels and deliveries of medication to ensure the most at risk in the community were kept at home. This time around, those at higher risk are being advised to minimise contact with others and ask for help with groceries.

Charities hit out over the lack of support after new guidance, saying the medically vulnerable have been overlooked. Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “It’s important that the clinically extremely vulnerable group are able to access food in a safe way through priority deliveries or volunteer networks. However, if this is not possible, the government and councils should be providing a fallback option, such as food parcel deliveries.”

Increasing number of ‘newly hungry’ rely on foodbanks

Food aid charities have warned of the emergence of a “newly hungry” group of people who previously enjoyed good jobs and comfortable incomes who are now turning to food banks and welfare benefits for the first time during the pandemic.

A report by Feeding Britain and the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) found that an influx of new middle-class families, who had not previously worried about putting food on the table were relying on their members’ services.

Research from before Covid-19 showed that the majority of those using food banks were extremely poor or destitute. The widening demographic of users seen in recent months reveals the hard-hitting socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis.

The report suggested that the rise had come from people falling through gaps in the social support system, an increased strain on families, and huge changes in the jobs market.