5.During 2020, the Government continued to fund the provision of free school meals to eligible children throughout the first national lockdown, and over some school holidays. In order to do this, Government guidance suggested that schools should “continue […] to supply meals for collection or delivery” or “provide every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets”. To facilitate the distribution of vouchers, the Department of Education announced a centralised “national voucher scheme” which was used by “more than 80 per cent of all schools”. The Government provided vouchers for free school meals during lockdowns; the 2020 Easter holiday; May half term; and, after some controversy, summer holidays.
6.Our report in July noted that “children in poverty are particularly vulnerable to experiencing insufficient nutritious food during the school holidays”. We were critical of the national voucher scheme set up to provide free school meals during the first lockdown, particularly the exclusion of discount retailers and convenience stores from the scheme and financial penalties for some schools providing vouchers outside of the national scheme. Noting that further school closures might occur, we concluded that:
The Government should now be more flexible and recognise the importance and success of most community-led responses to the provision of free school meal substitutes. Schools should be allowed to provide vouchers for whichever retailers serve their community best, without financial penalty. In addition, schools should be encouraged to continue catering directly for their pupils without being put in a financially worse situation than those using the national voucher scheme.
7.The Government’s response stated that they have taken “unprecedented and substantial action to ensure that no child should go hungry” and that “schools were free to consider the best solution for providing” free school meals. Furthermore, they explained that “we recognised that providing meals and food parcels was not a practical option for all schools” and subsequently the Government introduced the national voucher scheme; the vouchers “could be spent in stores who already had eGift card arrangements in place with our supplier”. Continuing, they explained that “as the scheme progressed, we were able to add Aldi, McColl’s, Iceland and the Company Shop Group” to the scheme, and that “£384m worth of voucher codes” had been redeemed in supermarkets.
8.Since our report, the Government has announced a £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme with “at least 80% earmarked to support with food and bills” between December 2020 and March 2021. The Government explained that the scheme will “provide food for children who need it over the holidays”, though local councils will “distribute the funds, rather than schools”. Councillor James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, told us that the scheme was “given to us [councils] at very short notice, and has been used very successfully”. In addition, the Government, following recommendations made in Part One of the National Food Strategy, has expanded the Holiday Activities and Food Programme. The scheme, which has, “provided healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children since 2018” will now also cover Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays in 2021, costing up to £220 million. However, despite these schemes, Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, explained to us that the Government had failed to extend “free school meals to all children in poverty”. The Food Foundation said that “current estimates suggest that 2 in 5 UK children living below the poverty line miss out on Free School Meals”.
9.During the third national lockdown at the start of 2021, which was announced the day before it took effect, schools were again closed to all pupils except for vulnerable children and children of key workers. The Government continued to fund free school meals throughout to eligible children both in school and those required to stay at home. Schools were advised that they should “adopt a food parcel first approach” when providing free school meals to children required to stay at home. However, serious concerns about the suitability of the parcels were raised after pictures of the purported contents of some parcels provided by one company circulated on social media. Anna Taylor described them as “really shocking”, although she also stated that “we have seen a lot of great images of food parcels that have been going out, so we must not taint everybody with the same brush”. Victoria Prentis, Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stated that “we saw some dreadful examples of items that had been delivered to replace lunch” and “the Department for Education has set up a special hotline to deal with the very real issues that we saw”.
10.Subsequently, Government guidance was amended so that schools were expected to provide lunch parcels through the school catering team or food provider; provide vouchers for a local shop or supermarket; or use the Department for Education’s national voucher scheme. The national voucher scheme launched once again on 18 January 2021, and was valid at a wide array of retailers including: Aldi, Iceland, McColl’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, M&S, Company Shop Group and Farm Foods. Anna Taylor told us that
Some families have really appreciated it when caterers have gone the extra mile and come up with food parcels and support […] [and] there has been an opportunity for teachers to keep in touch […]. […] There are some benefits to a mixed-model approach, but I fully appreciate that for many people a voucher is simply the easiest thing.
Victoria Prentis explained that “in terms of the general debate on parcel versus voucher versus money for food, there are different needs at different times. This has been an extraordinary year. Government have had to react very quickly”. More specifically, she stated that:
“Schools have set up a system where there is freedom to choose at a local level from lunch parcels, where that is appropriate, local vouchers and the Department for Education’s national voucher scheme, which has been restarted and set up again. It is right that those decisions are made on a local level. There may well be reasons, to do with the wholesale supply chain, for example, as to why a food parcel is appropriate.”
11.James Bielby, Chief Executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), explained that those who supply food to schools have been affected by the short notice announcement which “created a huge amount of excess stock that is very difficult to shift”. In addition, he told the Committee that “the members we represent were providing high-quality items” and the change in guidance away from food parcels “was a kneejerk U-turn” as “schools prefer food parcels and the guidance was explicitly clear that food parcels are better for all sorts of reasons, not least [the] safeguarding of children”. The FWD was concerned about the financial impact of the U-turn on wholesalers, who had already accrued excess stock valuing £12.2 million through the short-notice announcement of school closures and cancelled orders.
12.We support the principle that schools and local authorities should have multiple options, such as food parcels and vouchers, for providing free school meals to their pupils. They are best placed to know what works best for their communities. It is important that families have the flexibility to meet their specific needs and preferences.
13.We heard evidence that many wholesalers who were providing pupils with food parcels, provided them in line with Government guidance. However, a minority of parcels were clearly unacceptable. 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. The problems with food parcels exacerbated the difficulties for wholesalers caused by short-notice school closures and led to significant losses for a sector that was already struggling. We look at the need for greater support for wholesalers in Chapter 2.
14.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.
15.During the first lockdown, those considered to be Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) were advised to shield from 22 March 2020. To support people asked to shield, who would otherwise struggle to access food, the Government centrally procured food parcels from two wholesalers, Bidfood and Brakes, at a cost of £208 million. The companies delivered in excess of 5 million parcels, before the shielding scheme ended on 6 July 2020.
16.Food boxes were initially criticised for having inadequate and non-nutritious contents. The British Dietetic Association stated that the boxes were “near identical for the many weeks” and “locally delivered packs created either by the charitable sector or local authorities were better in their content”. However, we concluded in our first report that they were “a valuable way of ensuring […] access to basic foodstuffs” and “many of the complaints about the contents of parcels were likely to relate to the early food parcels made from the emergency bulk food offer from Government to local authorities” but “once the centralised system was in place, it appeared to operate very well”.
17.In subsequent lockdowns, the Government has not reintroduced the food parcel scheme for the CEV; instead, it has encouraged them to register for supermarket online priority delivery slots or to use family members and in some cases local authorities. Victoria Prentis told the Women and Equalities Committee in September 2020 that “things have moved on [from food parcels] and we now have a system whereby people are able to access supermarket slots for their food in the normal way”. However Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK, pointed out to us the issue of “online delivery charges, which for people on fixed incomes are very, very high”, whilst the organisation, National Disabled People Against Cuts, highlighted problems with accessing delivery slots and receiving food substitutions that didn’t meet dietary and/or medical needs. Independent Age recommended the suspension of “delivery charges and reduce[ed] minimum spends for those with online priority delivery slots”. Fazilet Hadi also noted to us that “disabled people are disproportionately digitally excluded”.
18.The Government’s policy of directing the CEV to supermarkets as opposed to re-instating food parcels was criticised by wholesalers. James Bielby from the FWD stated that there have been “a number of different things across the year that benefited the supermarkets […] [and] all […] trade was directly given to supermarkets”. In relation to the termination of the food parcel scheme, James Bielby told the Grocer, in January 2021, that “one of the only things Defra did to help wholesalers in March  has now been handed to the supermarkets”.
19.We concluded in our report that since the pandemic began, there had been “significantly increased demand for online shopping, combined with in-store measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and limit excessive buying, [which] have had a negative impact on people who are not shielding but struggling to access food” for other reasons. We recommended that the Government should “consult with retailers and charities to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made for this group of people as the pandemic continues”.
20.In a May 2020 open letter to the British Retail Consortium, the Equality and Human Rights Commission called for support in “meet[ing] the needs of disabled people” who “face additional barriers to shopping and require reasonable adjustments”. In September, Victoria Prentis told the Women and Equalities Committee that she had “got together a group of 24 disability charities who met with me and who helped me and my officials make some tailor made guidance that we then passed on to the retailers”. The Minister told us that:
“we assume, rightly—there is a legal requirement—that supermarkets will make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. That should happen at all times, in the pandemic and out of the pandemic. We expect them to anticipate those needs, not wait to be asked. It is right that we continue to make sure that everybody can access the food that they need in the way that suits them”.
21.Despite this, Fazilet Hadi from Disability Rights UK explained to us that the “evidence from disabled customers and older people with disabilities is that they are being treated quite shockingly by some retailers”. For example, the Royal National Institute of Blind People stated that “there are still issues around in-store accessibility and changing communications from supermarkets that need to be addressed”; in particular, the Institute referenced the introduction of ‘traffic-light’ supermarket entry systems and changes to store lay-outs.
22.Although the intention of the food parcels scheme during the first lockdown was to provide food to the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, it also had the effect of supporting wholesalers. However, it is right that in designing itssupport for the vulnerable, the Government has focussed on the needs of recipients and not suppliers. We explore the wider case for greater support for wholesalers and suppliers in the next chapter.
23.During the 2021 lockdown, the Government has relied more heavily on supermarkets to provide food to vulnerable groups. We support the principle that where possible people should be supported to shop for themselves. However, if the Government is directing custom towards supermarkets, it should be publicly asking them to accommodate the needs of the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV), elderly and disabled people. For example, by lowering minimum spends and removing delivery charges for CEV customers. However, a disproportionate number of people with disabilities are digitally excluded through not having access to the necessary equipment or skills. Therefore, whilst recognising the good work of the charitable sector, the Government must ensure that local authorities are properly resourced, and that retailers recognise their responsibility, to assist those who are digitally excluded in making food orders for delivery.
24.It is imperative that food retailers ensure that their stores are accessible to disabled people. We recognise the challenges faced in adapting stores to social distancing in the early months of the pandemic, but there is no excuse for ongoing barriers. All food retailers must ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that disabled people are not disproportionally hampered by additional in-store covid-19 measures. Where reasonable adjustments are not made the law should be properly enforced.
25.Anna Taylor of the Food Foundation told us that in the six months prior to 9 February 2021, 9% of all households had experienced food poverty and 12% of these were households with children. This translated to 5.9 million adults and a further 1.7 million children. Emma Revie, Chief Executive at the Trussell Trust, explained that throughout the pandemic, its food banks had “distributed more than 1.2 million emergency food parcels […], which was a 47% increase on the previous year. This was building on year-on-year increases in the previous five years. We saw a 74% increase in demand over those five years”. Cllr James Jamieson suggested that the rise in food bank usage “is not about a shortage of food per se; it is about financial poverty limiting access to food”.
26.A 2020 Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment House of Lords Committee report, ‘Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food’, found that the Government failed to “routinely collect data on levels of food insecurity”. The Government response stated that “there are no existing sources which give us complete, comprehensive information on an annual basis for the UK as a whole”. The Secretary of State told us last year that the Government had chosen to address this issue, through the Agriculture Bill, by enshrining in law a requirement to conduct food security assessments every five years. We recommended that “food security assessments should take place yearly”. In response, the Government introduced an amendment that requires the report to be “produced every three years”. The first report is due before the last sitting day of 2021. Victoria Prentis, explained that “it is a maximum of three-yearly […] [and] it may well be appropriate to do it more often”. She also explained that “we are anticipating that the food security report will include statistics from the living costs and food survey, the family resources survey […] and the FSA’s “Food and You” survey, which comes out every six months”. The first annual Department for Work and Pensions’ Family Resources Survey to include a question on food insecurity was published on 25 March 2021. However, it covered financial year 2019/20, i.e. mostly prior to the pandemic.
27.In our report, we also recommended that “the Government consults on whether a “right to food” should be given a legislative footing” and that “this should happen as a matter of great urgency”. We also recommended that the Government appoint “a Minister for Food Security, empowered to collect robust data on food insecurity and draw together policy across departments on food supply and welfare”. The Government response did not commit to either of our recommendations, instead, it stated that a White Paper would be published within 6 months of the National Food Strategy’s final report.
28.In relation to our recommendation for a ‘Minister for Food Security’ the Government response also stated that “Lord Gardiner Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity) is the Minister responsible for Food Security and Defra officials continue to work with other relevant Departments on food policy, including school meals (DfE), local authority provision (MHCLG) and the welfare system (Department for Work and Pensions) (DWP)”. Victoria Prentis said to us that “in the food supply sense [meaning the flow of food into and within the UK] of food security, we have a Minister. It is Lord Gardiner, and he sits within Defra”, although the Minister continued to say that “we monitor food security, in the wider sense of the word, very closely within Defra”. Will Quince, Minister for Welfare Delivery at Department for Work and Pensions, stated to us that “my gut instinct is it is not a particularly good idea” to have a Minister for Food Security because “looking at the root causes of poverty and food insecurity, the levers do not sit within one Government Department”. He explained further that “we should really be looking at a cross-Government effort to address the causes, which we are doing across Government and the committees”. He stated that Ministers “came together and worked up the plan for the local welfare assistance scheme, the £63 million scheme over the summer, and came together again to work on the Covid winter grant scheme, the £170 million scheme over this winter”. He further highlighted that “working cross-Government now, as we are doing, is working” but “if we were to have a Minister with such a niche policy area, […] it would be key that it did not sit in any Government Department […] [and] it is really important that they sit within Cabinet Office, so they are able to reach across Government”.
29.The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations states that the “right to food” is realised “when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement”. The Fans Supporting Foodbanks National Network: Right to Food campaign has set out a series of recommendations on how such a right could be implemented in the UK. However, part one of the NFS did not contain recommendations on the “right to food”, part two is due to be published “in April or May” 2021. Henry Dimbleby, who is leading the NFS, told us in June that he was not “convinced that the right to food is the right thing” because:
If you are going to extend rights, it has to be the case that every reasonable person needs to be able to agree on what those rights are. […] When you get into the nitty-gritty of what you mean by “right to food”, in a society with a developed welfare system, unlike, for example, India, where right to food has been very successful, it would be very difficult to define exactly what the right to food is.
30.However, Anna Taylor, explained to us in July that “had the right to food been in legislation before the pandemic, “we wouldn’t be in the situation […] with such high levels of unmet need”. The British Dietetic Association explained that “the adoption of a legally enshrined “Right to Food” will be a key means of ensuring all parts of government […] address the causes of food insecurity and hunger”. However, asked about a right to food, Cllr James Jamieson stated that:
it is a more complex problem than just providing somebody with food. It is about providing them with resources. […] we would rather there were no food banks, because we would rather that nobody needed a food bank. That would be the optimum solution. […] We do need to think about the preventive agenda […]. Everybody deserves to have a decent job that provides them with enough money in order to support themselves.
He further suggested that “everyone should have the right to the key essentials. Whether that is paying for your utilities so you are in a warm place with a roof over your head, or having enough money for clothes and food, everyone deserves that”. Emma Revie of the Trussell Trust explained that “one in seven local authorities do not have a local welfare assistance scheme. A critical part of supporting people going forward, supporting people not to have to arrive at a food bank and not to have to experience food insecurity, is about long-term investment in rebuilding local welfare assistance in those regions”.
31.Will Quince stressed that, “food insecurity and food poverty is one of the issues that I know keeps me up at night sometimes. I know Victoria [Prentis] is the same.” Victoria Prentis told us that “Speaking personally, I am not sure that this [the Right to Food] would assist at the moment […] [because] I am never sure that putting things in primary legislation is a silver bullet and that just saying there is a right to food magically makes it happen”. However, she noted that if the National Food Strategy wishes to address the issue then “I am sure that we will address that in our response”.
32.Without proper data, we cannot take action on the scale required and targeted at those in greatest need to tackle the causes and consequences of food insecurity. Data from charities indicate that many more people are food insecure as a result of the pandemic. The food security report under the Agriculture Act due by the end of this year must contain up-to-date data on the scale of food insecurity, as well as the make-up of households that have food insecurity (for example, data that is broken down into age groups to assess the prevalence of food insecurity in households that contain children). We welcome the Government’s decision to reduce the maximum gap between these reports to three years from five. However, as the Minister said, there is nothing stopping it producing more regular reports. It should use that flexibility to produce annual reports, at least for the next few years while we understand the impact of the pandemic and also the impact of Brexit and other changes to the UK’s trading relationships.
33.Ensuring everyone, and especially the vulnerable, have access to enough food is a fundamental duty of society and Government. We recognise that this is a goal the Government shares, even if there are differences over how best to achieve it. Although there have been failings, Ministers have mobilised their departments to support vulnerable people’s access to food during the pandemic, giving a sense of what would be possible if the issue was prioritised in normal times. Therefore, we reiterate our previous recommendations that a Minister for Food Security is created to maintain this momentum after the pandemic. This Minister needs to be supported by robust cross-Government structures to ensure that all interested departments prioritise the issue of food insecurity.
34.We agree that enshrining principles in law is not a “silver bullet”, however, giving the “right to food” a legislative footing would drive action on food insecurity across Whitehall and Government. We therefore recommend that the Government should consult on how a “right to food” could be implemented in England as part of its White Paper following the publication of the National Food Strategy. 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.
35.Food aid providers are supported by organisations, such as Fareshare, that redistribute “good quality surplus food […] to almost 11,000 frontline charities and community groups”. This food largely derives from “surplus food that would otherwise be going to waste”. FareShare has seen a tripling in “the average number of charities apply[ing] to receive food” from them, whilst the short-notice of lockdowns can create food surpluses. Lyndsey Boswell, FareShare, CEO told us in May that FareShare had “completed with DEFRA a £1.9 million trial, which concluded on 31 March, on neutralising the cost for British farmers and growers to redistribute surplus food”. The Committee recommended that Defra provided £5 million annually to enable the continuation of the programme, which would provide “53 million meals to those who are struggling, two thirds of which would go to families with children”. The Government response, stated that the FareShare trial “will inform our future programme of work, including into the next spending review period”. It added that “the food surplus redistributed through this grant scheme represents approximately 0.2% of all supply chain food waste and <0.1% of all food waste (post-farm gate)”. However, Victoria Prentis, told us “that the Government take[s] food waste very seriously” and that she expects “this to be an area in which we continue to work as Government”. Fareshare reiterated its call for the Government to provide £5 million per year to fund its “surplus with Purpose scheme”.
36.Food redistribution helps to provide nutritious food to those who might not otherwise have access to it, as well as minimising waste. We reiterate our recommendation that the Government should provide ongoing funding to FareShare and other charities, so they can continue to redistribute surplus food from the farmgate and across the supply chain to frontline food aid providers.
13 “Voucher scheme launches for schools providing free school meals”, Department of Education press release, 31 March 2020
14 “Voucher scheme launches for schools providing free school meals”, Department of Education press release, 31 March 2020; Edenred, written evidence to the COVID-19 and food supply inquiry, HC 263, ()
15 “Johnson makes U-turn on free school meals after Rashford campaign”, The Guardian, 16 June 2020; Department for Education, ““ accessed 3 March 2021
19 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, “COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report”, HC 841, p9
20 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, “COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report”, HC 841, p9
21 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, “COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report”, HC 841, p 9–10
22 “New winter package to provide further support for children and families”, Department for Work and Pensions press release, 8 November 2020
23 “New winter package to provide further support for children and families”, Department for Work and Pensions press release, 8 November 2020. Also, see City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council ().
26 Department for Education, ““ accessed 3 March 2021
28 The Food Foundation ()
29 Cabinet Office, “”, accessed 25 February 2021;
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31 Department of Education, “”, accessed 12 March 2021
32 “Food parcels fiasco: How the pandemic exposed free school meals failures…again”, Schools Week, 14 January 2021
35 Department of Education, “ ”, accessed 12 March 2021
36 Department of Education, “ ”, accessed 12 March 2021
42 Federation of Wholesale Distributors ()
43 Prime Ministers Office, “”, accessed 4 March 2021
45 “Coronavirus shielding scheme to be eased in England from 6 July”, The Guardian, 22 June 2020
46 “Two firms handed £200m government contract to deliver food parcels to the vulnerable during lockdown sent boxes containing inedible items at a cost of £44 each - nearly DOUBLE the retail value, analysis reveals”, Mail Online, 20 October 2020
47 British Dietetic Association () para 1.1.3 and 1.1.6
49 “Government will not provide food boxes for shielding people this lockdown”, The Grocer, 8 January 2021; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ””, accessed 4 March 2021
50 Oral evidence taken before Women and Equalities Committee on 22 September 2020, HC 386,
51 ; National Disabled people Against Cuts (). See also, for example, Coeliac UK ()
52 Independent Age ()
55 “Government will not provide food boxes for shielding people this lockdown”, The Grocer, 8 January 2021
58 Equality and Human Rights Commission, “”, accessed 4 March 2021
59 Oral evidence taken before Women and Equalities Committee on 22 September 2020, HC 386,
62 Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) ()
64 Food Foundation ()
65 ; see also, The Trussell Trust ()
71 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 841, p12
72 Agriculture Act 2020,
75 Department for Work and Pensions, “”, accessed 29 March 2021
78 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 841
79 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 841, p11
83 The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, ‘’ accessed 9 March 2021
84 Fans Supporting Foodbanks National Network: Right to Food, ‘’ accessed 22 March 2021
86 Oral evidence taken before Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 30 June 2020 HC 263,
88 British Dietetic Association (), para 1.3.2
95 FareShare, ‘’, accessed 9 March 2021
96 FareShare, ‘’, accessed 9 March 2021
97 Fareshare (); ‘’, The Grocer, 20 October 2020; Federation of Wholesale Distributors ()
98 Oral evidence taken before Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 15 May 2020 HC 263,
100 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 841, p8
101 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COVID-19 and food supply: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 841, p8
103 Fareshare ()