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.

Isolating university students complain of poor-quality food packages

Students stuck in halls in lockdown across the UK have complained about the low-quality food provided to them by their universities, some charged hundred of pounds for meal packages that include baked beans and instant noodles.  

With outbreaks of Covid-19 at more that 90 universities, students have said that they are struggling to feed themselves due to a lack of supermarket delivery slots, limited kitchen facilities and lack of space to stockpile food for their two weeks of isolation. 

Many have responded to universities’ patchy support by posting photos of their unpalatable emergency food packs on social media. They have complained they have no option but to pay high prices to their university for low-quality food, some of which takes days to arrive. 

Benefit claimants at risk of going hungry if uplift removed

National poverty charity Turn2us has warned against removing the value uplift to Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic after a survey of people claiming Universal Credit found that almost two-thirds (62%) said they’d struggle to afford food without the £20 uplift. The £20 uplift was introduced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to support people who were struggling with loss of income.

Quotes from service users on what the consequences of the uplift being removed would be for them include:

“I would need to choose between paying bills and buying food. I had to do this before the uplift.”

“I’ve been able to buy more fresh food and not cheap fatty foods. I’ll have to go back to a poor diet and obesity.” 

Mapping responses to risk of rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis across the UK

The Food Vulnerability During Covid-19 Phase One Report from the University of Sheffield and King’s College London maps out the responses to mitigate the risks of rising food insecurity during the early phase of the Covid-19 crisis across the UK. It highlights the vast scale of work done across governments, the third sector and the food industry to enhance food access for vulnerable people and the impact of these interventions. 

The main findings were: 

1) Responses to food insecurity have been on a scale and of a complexity not seen in recent times in the UK 

2) Whilst there have been major initiatives for people across the UK (e.g. the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme), responses have varied across constituent countries 

3) To fully understand responses to threats to household food security, systems mapping must be done at the local level 

4) Different population groups have faced intersecting risks of compromised financial and physical access to food. 

The next phase of the national mapping and monitoring work will involve exploring questions of how interventions worked in practice (what was actually delivered, how it was delivered and what was its impact) to learn key lessons from the response. 

Official data show redundancies rise since start of lockdown

Redundancies in the UK have risen at the sharpest rate since 2009, according to official data from the Office on National Statistics showing the first significant increase in unemployment since the start of the lockdown. The figures shows a 58,000 increase in redundancies year-on-year and an increase of 48,000 when compared to the previous quarter, pushing the unemployment rate up to 4.1 per cent. 

More timely data from the tax authority showed that the number of employees on payrolls was down by 695,000 in August compared with March 2020, the ONS said.  The number of people estimated to be away from work or furloughed was still more than 5 million in July 2020, with over 2.5 million of these being away for three months or more. There were also around 250,000 people away from work because of the pandemic and receiving no pay in July 2020. 


FOOD FOUNDATION REPORT – COVID-19: What impacts are unemployment and the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme having on food insecurity in the UK?

This briefing report uses data from two YouGov surveys commissioned by the Food Foundation over 14-17 May 2020 and 6-8 July 2020 to examine how risk of food insecurity compares for adults who have been furloughed or newly without work since February 2020 compared to those who have remained in work. It finds that, after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, adults who were working in February 2020 but who reported being unemployed in May or July were about 2.5 times more likely to be experiencing food insecurity than those who remained in work (18.5% vs. 7.4%, respectively). An equivalent rise was not observed for adults who had been working in February but who were furloughed in May or June, suggesting this scheme has protected this group from the dramatic rise in food insecurity observed for those who became unemployed. However, compared to those who remained in employment, significantly higher rates of food insecurity were still observed among people who were furloughed (10.2% vs. 7.4%, respectively).

Based on worst-case projections from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility of a rise in unemployment to 13.2%, it is estimated that there will be 251,892 to 336,533 more working age adults made food insecure on account of transitions from furlough or employment to unemployment, respectively, in the coming six months. In light of this evidence, there is an urgent need to address the inadequacy of income protection for the newly unemployed.

Nine in ten parents say Government should provide healthy free school meals for all children in poverty

92% per cent of parents support extension of free school meal eligibility to all children living in very low-income families, according to new research from Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active. Parents also agree that eligibility should be based on income, regardless of immigration status (89%). 

The survey conducted with over 750 parents across the UK gained insights on how the Covid-19 lockdown has impacted their children’s food intake.  

  • One in three (31%) reported it was harder to maintain healthy eating habits whilst children were at home 
  • 7 in 10 parents reported that their children ate more snacks in lockdown 
  • Children ate more crisps (35%), ice creams and lollies (46%), cakes and biscuits (40%), sweets and chocolate (30%). 

When parents were asked their views on the Government’s commitment to fund free school meals and healthy food policies: 

  • 9 in 10 parents (90%) agreed that the Government should review eligibility to make free school meals available to ALL children in poverty. Parents also agreed that eligibility should be based on income, regardless of immigration status (89%). 
  • More than 8 in 10 parents (83%) would also like to see holiday food provision available for all children eligible for Free School Meals.   

The results of the research are in line with the call from the new child poverty campaign spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford for Government to support the three National Food Strategy recommendations on children’s food programmes in the Chancellor’s Spending review and Autumn Budget.    

For more information: Research briefing Covid-19 and Children’s Food: Parents’ Priorities for Building Back Better or a presentation of the full findings.

Independent Food Banks in Scotland report need for emergency food parcels doubled in lockdown

Despite the Scottish Government’s ‘cash first’ approach, independent food banks in Scotland have seen the need for their services double since the start of lockdown compared to last year’s April to July figures.  

Figures from the UK-wide Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) show that there has been a 108% rise in the number of emergency food parcels distributed in July 2020 compared to same month last year.  

70 independent food banks in 20 local authorities in Scotland distributed at least 182,863 emergency food parcels between February and July 2020  

Mary McGinley of Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank said: “These figures again show that an ever-increasing number of people in Scotland continue to live in poverty experiencing food insecurity. Going forward, more needs to be done to address the underlying cause of food insecurity and poverty in our communities.” 

DfE Updates Guidance on Free School Meals during Covid-19 for the Return to School

The Department for Education (DfE) has updated its guidance on providing school meals during COVID-19, accounting for the measures schools and caterers need to put in place for pupils returning to school from September. The guidance provides information on supporting Free School Meals (FSM) pupils who may be quarantined at home, details on managing universal infant free school meals, an update on school food contracts and more about the additional costs incurred before the summer holidays. The guidance makes clear that all meals must continue to comply with the School Food Standards and it also confirms the temporary extension of FSM to pupils from migrant families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) will continue through the Autumn term.

Poor Families Hit Hardest by Covid-19, Charity and Church Warns

A new joint report by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Church has warned of ‘significant deterioration’ in living conditions for low-income families due to Covid. The report ‘Poverty in the Pandemic: The Impact of Coronavirus on Low-income Families and Children’ was based on an online survey of 285 low-income families and in-depth interviews with 21 of these families between May and August 2020 and offers an insight into the day-to-day impact of Covid on families.

The report’s key finding is that eight out of ten of the families say that they are in a worse position because of the pandemic and nearly half (48 per cent) report having a debt problem that was new or worse than before. CPAG has urged Government to increase child benefit by £10 a week, extend free school meals to all families receiving universal credit or working-tax credit, and abolish the benefit cap to protect families whose employment has been disrupted by the crisis.