A new report on insights from Food Foundation surveys on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected food access in the UK reveals the depth and scale of the problem faced by many families.
Food insecurity, defined as the “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” predates the pandemic in the UK, but the report presents a stark picture of the current situation.
Despite vital emergency measures in place, more people are food insecure now than before the pandemic.
22% of all households have lost income since before the pandemic
2.3 million children live in households that have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months (12% of all households with children)
41% of households on free school meals have experienced have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months
1.5 million 8–17-year-olds (20%) reported food insecurity over Christmas/ January.
1 million 8–17-year-olds and their families (17%) visited a food bank over Christmas/ January.
Other research echoes these findings. The Food Standards Agency have also tracked food insecurity throughout the course of the pandemic and have seen similar trends. Another survey conducted by Feeding Britain in June found 8.5% of adults reported low food security and 7.7% reported very low food security.
Exposure to food insecurity is not equal across all households.
What is clear from the Food Foundation’s research is that Covid-19 has dramatically widened inequalities in food security and nutrition.
Those limited a lot by health problems or disability are 5 times more likely than those with no health problems
Severely clinically vulnerable individuals are 2 times more likely when compared to average
Food sector workers are 1.5 times more likely than non-food sector workers
BAME communities are 2 times more likely when compared to white British
What is driving this problem?
Lack of income is the most prominent driving factor of food insecurity, with 55% of respondents reporting they did not have enough money. Approximately 900,000 adults report having lost all their income as a result of the pandemic
Isolation (31% of respondents) and lack of supply were (23%) were the next most cited barriers. Worryingly, only 23% of people who were experiencing food insecurity in January 2021 managed to find help.
The Food Foundation sets out three recommendations to improve levels of food security in the UK.
Review free school meals- The Government should review the current eligibility threshold to make sure no disadvantaged children are missing out on the benefits of a Free School Meal. In January 2021, 17% of children who don’t receive FSM said they would like to be able to have them.
Pay fair and keep the uplift- Food insecurity levels are high among those in work and those on benefits – a strong indication that we need to strengthen the safety net and increase wages so people can afford to eat well.
Leadership and action on food insecurity- Currently, no single authority in Government has designated oversight on food insecurity tracking or responsibility to tackle it. As we move out of crisis mode, we need a designated authority in Government who has oversight of this data, with powers to inform and initiate action at the national and local authority level in response to the data.
The report advocates for a move away from short-term solutions and emergency food aid. The findings clearly show a need to recognise that poverty is at the heart of the problem of food insecurity. They would like to see policies that will address the underlying causes, arguing that food banks are not a solution that protects dignity – people should have the resources and be empowered to buy what they need for a healthy diet.