New paper explores how Covid 19 has exposed inequalities in the food system

16 April 2020 / IKnowFood

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the profound insecurity of large segments of the UK population; increased unemployment, reduced hours, and enforced self-isolation for multiple vulnerable groups is likely to lead to an increase in UK food insecurity, exacerbating diet-related health inequalities. The social and economic crisis associated with the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the system of food charity which, at present, is a key response to growing poverty and struggling to cope during the Covid 19 pandemic

Empty Supermarket Shelves

The article, written by IKnowFood researchers, Dr Madeleine Power, Prof Bob Doherty, Dr Katie Pybus and Prof Kate Pickett and published on Emerald Open Research makes a series of recommendations for social security policy, ‘emergency’ food provision, and retailers:

  • The Government must end the five week wait for Universal Credit and streamline the processing time.
  • Further social security protections including suspending all benefit deductions for the next six months, increasing the child element of Universal Credit, and suspending the two child limit and to add £10 per week to child benefits.
  • Urges the government to consider other mechanisms to maximise household financial resilience, for example, by capping or freezing utility bills.
  • Households are given cash grants to enable them to buy the food they require, rather than food itself.
  • Supermarket employees are paid the Real Living Wage, which will increase household income and reduce food insecurity amongst this group.

The report states that “ultimately, it is the government’s responsibility to protect population health, to guarantee household incomes, and to safeguard the economy”.

Dr Maddy Powell said:

It is well-established that food banks — whether independent or affiliated with the Trussell Trust — and other food aid providers are unable to improve household incomes and mitigate against food insecurity in the long-run. At present, they are fighting on all fronts but, ultimately, struggling in the face of this health and economic crisis.

Prof Bob Doherty also explained:

The social and economic crisis associated with the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the system of food charity which, at present, is a key response to growing poverty. A vulnerable food system, with just-in-time supply chains, has been challenged by stockpiling.

Resultant food supply issues at food banks, alongside rapidly increasing demand and reduced volunteer numbers, has undermined many food charities, especially independent food banks.