COVID-19 Lockdowns Are Sparking a Hunger Crisis in the UK
A recent survey found that 1.5 million people a day are going without food.
The UK has been in official COVID-19 lockdown since March 23 and, just like in other countries, the disruption to the economy has hit people already in a more vulnerable position the hardest. These include people on low incomes or in precarious work situations; or who are dealing with long-term physical or mental health conditions.
This issue of inequalities being heightened is also being seen through a rising pressure on Britain's food banks, as more people losing their incomes have had to rely on them, while at the same time donations have slowed as people stockpile items to see them through the pandemic.
Some food banks serving low-income communities have already had to close due to running out of food, the Independent reported in March.
Research from the Food Foundation in April revealed that 1.5 million people in Britain are going a whole day without food on any given day, due to having no money or access to food, the Guardian reported. In the same survey, which was conducted by YouGov, some 3 million people said they were in a household where someone had been forced to skip meals.
Who is at risk of experiencing food poverty in the UK?
People in low-wage jobs who have been furloughed and not been paid yet, or who are in precarious work and their job has simply disappeared, are among those most at risk.
These people need access to benefits that won’t come through for a few weeks and have seen their household finances completely derailed.
An example of one of these people is Paul, who spoke to the Evening Standard newspaper while queueing to receive a free meal from a centre for homeless people in London, that has increased its capacity during coronavirus thanks to a fundraising campaign.
Paul, who preferred to just be identified by his first name, told the newspaper that he had been working in construction for years but suddenly lost his job in lockdown when the development he was working on closed at the start of the pandemic. He had been unable to make rent and became homeless within two weeks.
Meanwhile, children who rely on free school meals are often now missing out on a daily hot meal due to school closures. This is an issue that the government has tried to address through a new food voucher scheme available to families that are normally eligible for free school meals.
But due to delays in the vouchers being available through the company contracted to distribute them, many are having to receive emergency food handed out by teachers over the past few weeks, the BBC reported.
This ad hoc system means some are going hungry as families in poverty struggle to get hold of the food vouchers, the Sun reported.
Another group at risk are people isolating at home who are over 70 or more, at risk due to underlying health conditions or disabilities. This group are often relying on friends, family, or neigbours to deliver food and medicine, but not everyone has that kind of support network.
Some, meanwhile, have ended up missing out on receiving support with grocery deliveries, due to not yet being identified by authorities as needing support.
Over 100 people with severe disabilities and chronic illnesses told the Guardian they had not been put onto priority lists for online shopping, despite receiving letters from the government advising them not to risk going grocery shopping in person. That means they face delays with online shopping and deliveries and are running out of food before they are able to get their delivery.
What is being done to help?
The UK government started an emergency food parcel scheme at the end of March, with a view to reaching 900,000 people who have been warned they need to completely self-isolate.
At the same time, fundraisers for food banks have been launched all over the country. Communities have rallied together to help their most vulnerable neigbours too – through local COVID-19 mutual aid groups, which are coming together to reach and support people in need.
Existing charities that help people in food poverty have also increased their hours, or altered their delivery method from gatherings to delivering parcels directly, according to a BBC report on homelessness charity Mustard Tree in Manchester.
You can join the global efforts to limit the spread and impact of COVID-19, and to support the world's most vulnerable people through the pandemic, by taking action through our Together At Home campaign.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.