Covid-19 and the issues of security in food supply Contents
To control the spread of covid-19, the Government introduced a first national lockdown in England in March 2020. This had a significant impact on the supply of food. In response, the Committee launched an inquiry in April 2020 on “covid-19 and food supply” and subsequently published a report in July 2020. From September 2020, the Government gradually reintroduced measures to supress the virus, which culminated in 2 further national lockdowns. The supply of food was once again affected. As a result, the Committee launched a follow-up inquiry in January 2021, focused on food insecurity for individuals and the food supply chain, and found that:
- In the third national lockdown beginning in January 2021, the Government took a ‘food parcel first’ approach to distributing free school meals to pupils not attending school. However, it reintroduced a national voucher scheme, after serious concerns were raised about the suitability of some parcels. Schools should have multiple options for providing free school meals and be able to choose the best one to meet their pupils’ needs. It is therefore unfortunate that the failings of some suppliers, in terms of quality and value for money, led to a fall in public confidence in England given that parcels are the best option in some circumstances. It is important that the sector and Government learns from these failings and ensures that any future offering is consistently up to standard and delivers value for money. We know that during lockdown food insecurity is particularly likely amongst those eligible for free school meals. Therefore, in the event of another lockdown, Government should ensure that families of children who would normally receive free school meals continue to be able to feed their children.
- The Government encouraged people who were asked to shield to rely on supermarket online delivery services or friends or family, in place of the national food parcels provided in the first lockdown. Concerns were raised that this excluded people who could not afford supermarkets minimum spends or delivery charges. As supermarkets have seen increased spending during the pandemic, the Government should publicly ask them to lower minimum spends and remove delivery charges for customers who are at an increased risk of severe disease from covid-19. In addition, all retailers must ensure that reasonable adjustments are made so that disabled people are not disproportionally hampered by additional in-store covid-19 measures; where adjustments are not made, the law should be properly enforced.
- It is estimated that 5.9 million adults in the UK experienced food poverty in the 6 months prior to the 9th February 2021; 1.7 million children live in households that are food insecure. Without proper data, the Government cannot effectively tackle the causes and consequences of food insecurity. Although action is being taken to improve this the Government should go further and produce annual reports on food security under the Agriculture Act, at least in the short to medium term. Ministers have mobilised their departments to support vulnerable people to access food during the pandemic, but this impetus needs to be sustained. A Minister for Food Security should be appointed and supported by robust cross-Government structures to ensure that all interested departments prioritise the issue of food insecurity, and the Government should consult on how a “Right to Food” could be introduced in England. We appreciate that the right to daily nutritious food as part of a national food strategy will need to consider the need for people to have food security along with other essential needs.
- The hospitality industry and its suppliers have been hit hard by the pandemic; the sector has seen revenues decline by over £72 billion and some suppliers have lost up to 100% of their trade. Those who supply the hospitality sector have not received the same level of support as those they supply. If its supply chain collapses the support the Government has provided to the hospitality sector will have been wasted. Therefore, it should urgently assess the impact of the closures to the hospitality sector on its suppliers and provide additional financial support to them during the period of reopening.