COVID-19 and food supply Contents

2Food insecurity

36.The commonly used definition of food security, agreed at the UN-FAO summit in 1996, states that food security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This chapter looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected food security.99

Food aid and food banks

37.In 2014, Defra defined food aid as “an umbrella term used to describe any type of aid giving activity which aims to provide relief from the symptoms of food insecurity and poverty” including “a broad spectrum of activities, from small to large scale, local to national, emergency one-off operations or well established food banks”.100 There is a complex network of provision of food aid across the UK. There are over 2000 food banks in the UK, of which around 1200 are operated by the Trussell Trust.101 The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) estimated that, in addition, “there are more than 3,000 independent frontline food aid providers operating outside of the food bank model” including soup kitchens, community food projects and school holiday meal providers.102 IFAN stated that “on top of these numbers, the Salvation Army runs numerous food banks and food aid schemes across the country”.103

38.The Government does not currently collect robust data on food insecurity.104 We are therefore reliant on estimates from charities. Anna Taylor, Chief Executive of the Food Foundation, told us that fifteen per cent of adults reported food insecurity in the first phase of lockdown, and that as of June, there were 4.9 million adults and 1.7 million children experiencing food insecurity.105 The Trussell Trust does not gather data on the number of individual food bank users; but instead measures food bank use by the number of three-day emergency food parcels it provides.106

Figure 1: Food parcels provided by the Trussell Trust between 2005 and 2019107

Figure 1 shows that the number of food parcels provided annually was increasing year on year up to 2019. In its 2019 State of Hunger report, the Trussell Trust estimated that 8–10 per cent of UK households were food insecure in 2016–18 and that “up to 2% of UK households used a food bank in 2018/19”.108 The Trussell Trust found that “there are higher rates of food bank use in former industrial urban areas in the North and Midlands, some coastal towns, and a range of London boroughs”.109

39.Food bank use before the pandemic was driven by factors largely unrelated to the food supply chain. The main drivers were identified by the Trussell Trust as: inadequacy, gaps and reductions in benefits (affecting two thirds of users); challenging life experiences (such as eviction or divorce); ill health, particularly poor mental health; and a lack of informal support.110 The Trussell Trust stated that “food banks should not be necessary in a society such as ours, and we continue to work towards this by campaigning for change on policies that we know drive food bank use”.111

Impact of the pandemic

40.In the previous Chapter, we discussed unprecedented consumer demand for food in shops and supermarkets. This had consequences for food banks. IFAN explained in May that “independent food banks and other food aid providers began reporting shortages of supply in early March and have continued to struggle to access food, particularly ambient non-perishable food, either through purchasing from supermarkets and wholesalers or through donations from these sources and food redistribution charities”.112 IFAN stated that “during the first few weeks of the crisis, independent food banks weren’t able to purchase food in supermarkets because of lack of supply and the rationing imposed by supermarkets” but added that “by the middle of April this situation started to improve so that food bank teams could make purchases of food and could start to buy in bulk again”.113

41.With regards to demand for food banks, Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, stated that the impact of the pandemic was “instantaneous and profound”.114 She explained that in the last two weeks of March “there was an 81% increase in demand and, quite alarmingly, a 122% increase in the number of children receiving food through our food banks”, compared to the same period of time last year.115 This indicated that “we were definitely seeing a disproportionately high number of children”.116 The Trussell Trust provided further figures, which showed “an 89% increase in the number of people turning to our food banks in April across the UK, compared to the same time last year”.117

42.Emma Revie stated that “the primary reason why people were coming was that there was an insufficiency of income to cover essentials”.118 According to the Government, “there has been unprecedented levels of demand for Universal Credit” since the pandemic started: “from 1 March 2020 to 23 June 2020, the DWP has received 3.4 million individual declarations to Universal Credit”.119 The Food Foundation stated that it expected “to see the numbers falling into food insecurity for economic reasons increasing as a result of further job losses as the pandemic continues, and savings having been spent”.120 On 22 June, the Work and Pensions Committee published its Report on the Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) response to the coronavirus outbreak.121 It concluded that the “baked-in wait for a first payment in Universal Credit means that some claimants take out an Advance in order to make ends meet, which must then be paid back within 12 months” and that “these repayments are creating additional hardship at a time when many households are already struggling to get by”.122 The Work and Pensions Committee called for DWP to “review the Advances system and consider what changes are needed to make it more flexible, so that in times of crisis like these it can react quickly to meet claimants’ needs”.123

43.Food aid providers are supported by organisations such as FareShare, which is a national network of charitable food redistributors that takes “good quality surplus food from right across the food industry” to “almost 11,000 frontline charities and community groups”.124 FareShare stated that “the week before the pandemic lockdown we redistributed enough food to create almost a million meals for vulnerable people every week - from surplus food alone”.125 It explained that as of May, this had “risen to 2.2 million meals per week and demand is rising still”.126 FareShare was concerned that “post furlough measures it is highly likely that we will see a much larger number of long term vulnerable and that surplus food volumes at the level that are currently passed on for social use are insufficient to meet demand”.127

44.Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare, explained that it had recently completed a trial with Defra “on neutralising the cost for British farmers and growers to redistribute surplus food” and that the trial was “being evaluated within Defra”.128 He considered the trial to have been a “a howling success” with “an 85% increase in the amount of fresh produce—fruit and vegetables—that we are able to get to frontline community groups”.129 FareShare suggested that one solution was for Government “to make available £5 million per annum to support farmers, growers, manufacturers and distributors to safely and quickly divert surplus food to FareShare without incurring additional costs–particularly during this critical time - rather than have it go to waste”.130 Lindsay Boswell stated that with this funding, FareShare could “double the volume of food that we are able to redistribute”, which would still only be one per cent, or 20,000 tonnes of the amount of food that is wasted at the farm gate”.131 Our predecessor Committee’s 2017 report on Food waste in England found that an estimated “10 million tonnes of food and drink waste arises post-farmgate each year, 60% of which could be avoided”.132

45.IFAN concluded that “the Government is not doing enough to support people access sufficient healthy food” and that “the food industry is making substantial donations to the emergency food supply chain however these measures are limited”.133 It pointed out that “some independent food banks and food aid providers are signed up to the national food surplus redistribution charity FareShare and can benefit from a temporary free membership scheme” but that “there is a substantial number of independent food aid providers not signed up to FareShare or who are unable to access this support”.134

46.Defra highlighted that it had:

announced a £16 million funding pot that will help front-line services distribute food to vulnerable people. Both purchased and surplus food will be used. £1.8 million of this funding will go towards the Waste Resource Action Programme’s (WRAP) COVID-19 Emergency Surplus Food Grant. This Defra-funded grant programme was launched on April 2nd to enable not-for-profit redistribution organisations to overcome barriers to the distribution of surplus food that would otherwise be wasted in the wake of COVID-19. This additional funding will top up the £3.25 million already announced for this grant programme.135

In June, the Government announced that “an additional £63 million” would be “distributed to local authorities in England to help those who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to coronavirus”.136 When we asked the Secretary of State if the Government would continue to provide the £5 million a year to continue funding FareShare’s work on redistributing surplus food from the farmgate to frontline community groups, he replied that “this was very much a one-off payment to deal with the coronavirus crisis” and it was because “at the peak of this, because of panic-buying and other difficulties, initially the supermarkets had less surplus food to redistribute”.137 He considered that “as things return to normal, we can expect some of those other donations of surplus food to kick back in, so it probably will not be necessary to sustain this year on year”.138

47.Use of food banks was increasing before the pandemic and has effectively doubled during the pandemic. It is likely that the situation will get worse before it gets better. Food bank use is normally a symptom of, amongst other things, a lack of sufficient income and social support, rather than a food supply issue and we note the June 2020 report of the Work and Pensions Committee, which addresses these matters and calls for flexibility in Universal Credit advance payments.

48.During the early stages of the pandemic, however, supply to food banks and food aid organisations was disrupted. At the same time, a significant amount of food is still being wasted in the supply chain. Food waste must always be reduced, but, at a time of such critical need, it is particularly abhorrent. We commend Defra for providing £16 million of funding for the redistribution of food to vulnerable people. However, we recommend that Defra continues to provide the £5 million annual funding for FareShare to redistribute surplus food from the farmgate and across the supply chain to frontline food aid providers, for a further two years. As well as helping those who struggle to afford food as the effects of the pandemic continue, it would also reduce food waste at the farmgate. Over the next two years, Defra should evaluate whether the scheme has been successful and whether it should continue or be expanded as part of its efforts to reduce food waste. The Government should evaluate the impact of the £63 million provided to local authorities to assist those struggling to afford food and consider whether further support is necessary.

Free school meal vouchers

49.Free school meals are provided for all school children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.139 For other year groups, free school meals are usually provided for children whose parents receive certain benefits, such as income support.140 Department for Education (DfE) statistics showed that in January 2020 in England, “17.3% of pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals, an increase from 15.4% in 2019”.141 The Government stated on 31 March that 1.3 million children received “benefits-related free school meals”.142

50.From 23 March 2020, schools in England were closed with the exceptions of the children of key workers and vulnerable children.143 On 31 March, the DfE announced that “children eligible for free school meals will benefit from a national voucher scheme allowing them to continue to access meals whilst they stay at home”.144 In addition, “schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves”.145 The DfE stated that “schools can now provide every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets”.146 Vouchers could be claimed during the 2020 Easter, May half-term and summer holidays, due to the “unprecedented nature of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”.147

51.The DfE’s chosen supplier for the free school meals voucher scheme was Edenred.148 Edenred explained that “it was not mandated or envisaged that all schools would have to use the system”, but that:

Nevertheless, 17,518 schools - more than 80 per cent of all schools–have used the system so far, with the majority of them using it regularly. More schools have registered to order vouchers for the upcoming school summer holiday.149

The Children’s Food Campaign and School Food Matters stated that “the Edenred system was quickly overwhelmed with applications and was not able to quickly process the requests for vouchers” because:

The national school meal voucher scheme for England was only intended as a last resort option where existing catering arrangements were not viable, however the high profile promise of £15 per week per child raised expectations amongst many parents, whilst the centrally funded nature of the scheme provided an incentive for school leaders to drop catering relationships (adding to the already precarious business models of the public sector caterers) and enrol families in this scheme instead.150

52.When the scheme was announced at the end of March, retailers signed up to the scheme were Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S, with the DfE “working to get more shops to join the scheme as soon as possible”.151 Stephanie Wood, CEO of the charity School Food Matters, stated that “lots of people are really angry that DfE has defaulted to the big six supermarkets, two of which are really irrelevant when it comes to families on low income: Marks & Sparks and Waitrose”.152 The Children’s Food Campaign and School Food Matters stated that “many lower income families are likely to shop [at] Aldi, Lidl, Co-op or chains of independent/convenience stores”.153 They added that “only two retailers offered online redemption of vouchers, but online shopping portals required a minimum spend, and delivery slots were largely unavailable to anyone registering new accounts”.154 Aldi, McColls, Iceland and Company Shop group have subsequently joined the scheme.155

53.Edenred stated that “in order for a retailer to join the scheme, they must have a digital gift card system already in operation that can be processed in every one of their stores” and that “Iceland, Aldi and McColl’s were in a position for us to support them in implementing a system”.156 However, Lidl told us that it had been informed that a physical voucher mechanism was possible, and that it submitted a proposal on 27 April “detailing how a physical voucher could be delivered”.157 Lidl stated that “disappointingly, we were then subsequently informed by Edenred that the Department for Education are no longer considering suppliers such as Lidl, that cannot offer an e-gift card solution”.158 Lidl considered that:

The decision by the Government and Edenred to not onboard suppliers that cannot offer an e-gift card solution has so far denied hundreds of thousands of Lidl customers from being able to spend their vouchers in our stores, forcing them to go elsewhere - and in many cases pay more - to access the scheme.

In their latest correspondence the Government set out that the decision to exclude Lidl has been taken to allow all parties involved in the scheme to focus on service performance. Measuring the performance of this scheme in any way other than by how it enables access to as many households as possible, seems counterintuitive to the entire purpose of the scheme.159

Co-op Food told us that it had a “physical gift card scheme, which was up and running before the crisis began” and that it had “made a practical and scalable offer to both the Department for Education and Edenred before the National Voucher Scheme was launched”.160 Co-op Food stated that “after weeks of discussions we identified a number of challenges that we knew would take many weeks to overcome so we came to the conclusion that the interests of the schools and families we wanted to support would be best served by offering Co-op giftcards for sale to schools”.161 However, it was “concerned that some schools who have bought vouchers from us directly may be financially penalised relative to schools who have used the Edenred scheme”.162 The ACS explained that “only one convenience store operator has been able to participate in the national free school meals voucher [scheme] because of the requirement for retailers to commit to acceptance across every branded retail outlet”.163 This was challenging because “most convenience stores are operated by independent retailers or symbol group retailers, which are independent retailers trading under a brand for example Spar, Costcutter or Nisa”.164 The ACS was “disappointed that more was not done to include convenience stores in the initial launch as local shops have a unique reach into every community across the UK”.165

54.Andrew Opie, BRC, stated that “the biggest disappointment of the whole thing has been the lack of willingness from both DfE and its providers to work with the retailers to find workable solutions”.166 James Lowman, CEO of ACS, agreed, and considered that there “were some assumptions made about where people would want to access food that were wrong”.167 Anna Taylor, Food Foundation, stated that the situation “had knock-on impacts on children”, and that “in the first month, about a third of children did not get any substitute. That has fallen since then”.168 She considered that the number of children dependent on free school meals “is likely to go up very significantly as […] people shift on to the benefits system”.169

55.Wales took a different approach to England and stated that “schools or local authorities have the discretion to purchase gift cards or e-vouchers from local supermarkets or shops”, adding that “the choice of retailer should reflect those which operate in the local area”.170 In April, it was reported that “the Welsh Government had scrapped plans to introduce a national voucher scheme”.171 The Welsh Education Minister considered that “the best plan was for councils to decide what works best for their local communities”.172 Anna Taylor stated that where schools had “decided to put in place their own parcels” they had dealt with “safeguarding, educational and nutritional needs […] in a way that a national scheme is just limited in its ability to do”.173 She concluded that “the national scheme was important, in this instance, as a safety net, but the importance of community-led responses has been shown over and over again”.174

56.The Local Government Association (LGA) was less critical and stated that “although there have been some challenges with bringing that offer to scale via the chosen provider, and a need to expand the range of participating retailers, the move has been welcomed as a sensible alternative to school-based provision”.175 We asked the Secretary of State how Defra had worked with the DfE in developing the voucher scheme. He told us that Defra “had a number of conversations with DfE about trying to broaden the eligibility for some of the other stores, so that the vouchers could be used in a wider range of stores” and that “progress on that was made, particularly with some of the other supermarkets”.176 David Kennedy, Director General of Food, Farming and Biosecurity at Defra, stated that:

The challenge is standing new approaches up that we do not have very quickly, in order to reach as many people as possible. There is a trade-off there between design and complexity, and just getting something stood up that works for most people. […] The situation was the same for the Department for Education; it is standing up an approach from nothing, where the urgent need was there, and you have trade-offs in finding the right balance.177

57.With the need to quickly provide children with a substitute for free school meals after schools closed, the Department for Education (DfE) designed a national voucher system. The speed with which it was set up was commendable and some teething problems were inevitable. However, the system has been beset by significant problems, ultimately leading to about a third of children experiencing greater food insecurity in the first month. A particular problem was the Government’s immediate reliance on the larger retailers to participate in the scheme, with discounters and convenience stores excluded for technical reasons, even when they were able to offer workable voucher schemes which would have helped more children. There was a need for closer collaboration on the part of both Government and retailers. The Government did not sufficiently consider the realities of where families dependent on free school meals were most likely to shop for food. We note that vouchers can be used during school holidays. Children in poverty are particularly vulnerable to experiencing insufficient nutritious food during the school holidays, so it is important such schemes have universal reach. Penalising some schools that use voucher systems outside the problematic national scheme ignores the fact that the ultimate priority, as recognised by those schools, should be keeping children fed. Although more retailers were added to the scheme, we consider that this took too long. We are disappointed at the apparent lack of willingness to quickly adapt the scheme in response to the issues that emerged. Later in this Chapter we will set out our views on cross-Government coordination in relation to food security.

58.At time of publication, the Government and schools were working on fully reopening schools.178 However, further school closures may be necessary, as demonstrated by the local outbreak in Leicester at the end of June.179 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.

Food parcels

59.In this Chapter we have primarily looked at how food insecurity has affected those struggling to afford food. In the final part of this Chapter, we look at another, novel group of people that was at risk of falling into food insecurity during the pandemic: those identified as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) and advised by the Government to “shield”, or stay at home at all times.180

60.The Government identified 2.2 million CEV people, who were advised to fully shield from 23 March to 6 July, with shielding not deemed necessary after 1 August.181 Defra explained that “a key element of the Shielding Programme established by the Government in March 2020 is assisting individuals without any other means of getting to access essential food supplies” and that “the majority of registered individuals have said that they have access to support networks and do not need food deliveries”.182 Defra contracted “established wholesalers Bidfoods and Brakes to deliver weekly parcels of essential items directly to individuals’ doorsteps” containing “essential food and non-food items such as bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, toilet paper and soap”.183 Brakes stated that the service “was conceived, sourced and delivered within nine days”.184 As of 30 June, over 4 million packages had been delivered.185 Defra clarified that the total contract value for the food parcel scheme was £208 million.186 The Government supplied “over 150 bulk deliveries of food to Local Authorities” in England, which ensured “councils had the resources to support shielding individuals at the local level while the ‘direct to doorstep’ system was developed and rolled out”.187 Defra “also shared data with supermarkets” and “supermarkets are prioritising these individuals for delivery slots”; see Chapter 1 for more.188

61.Independent Age stated in April that “a small, but significant proportion of people [had] been waiting longer than a month for their first food parcel” and that:

At a time where access to sufficient, healthy food is paramount for those who have been identified by the NHS as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ it is very problematic that some individuals have shared via our survey that due to specific health reasons, such as being a coeliac or having a restricted diet due to diabetes, a proportion of their food parcel is unable to meet their needs or puts their health at risk.189

This view was shared by many who responded to our survey in April: only 44 per cent of those who had received a food parcel said that the parcel had met their needs.190 A typical response was that “the food parcel is insufficient for two of us, it does not accommodate my dietary needs and is not nutritionally balanced”.191

62.Newcastle City Council explained that “while gratefully received, foods supplied in the emergency bulk offer were not sufficient to provide a nutritionally balanced food parcel” and that it had “used its own funding to purchase supplementary content”.192 However, it stated that “anecdotally, the quality of the government shielding programme food parcels is reported to be good, with high levels of satisfaction from residents”.193 Similarly, the LGA stated that “although there were issues with the food provided through the initial one-off bulk delivery of food drops to councils, we are not aware of concerns being raised about the content of the food deliveries now in place to individual households”.194 The Secretary of State concurred with this assessment.195

63.However, the LGA acknowledged that there were “concerns that the contents did not represent a healthy diet or address specific dietary requirements”.196 Defra stated that the contents of food parcels had “been reviewed by nutritionists to ensure they provide adequate nutrition for one person for one week”.197 They were “intended to provide basic supplies to those who need them most” and they were designed “in consultation with nutritionists and industry groups”.198 Defra conceded there were “some limitations” around what could be included as it was only possible to include ambient foods.199 Those with “special dietary needs that may not be met by the packs they receive”, were advised to “contact their Local Authority for further help and advice”.200

64.The distribution of food parcels to people who were Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) and without other means of support was a valuable way of ensuring that those people had access to basic foodstuffs. We accept that 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. Once the centralised system was in place, it appeared to operate very well. However, if the Government repeats such an endeavour in future, such as during a second wave of COVID-19, it should make greater efforts to ensure that nutrition and dietary needs are given higher priority from the start.

Government responsibility for food insecurity

65.The Food Foundation stated that “Covid-19 has had serious and wide-reaching consequences for the UK’s food system, leaving millions facing food insecurity”.201 Ian Wright, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), stated that:

this crisis has thrown up an absence of responsibility in Government for hunger and for the 2.5 million people for whom their main meal of the day comes through donated food, whether it be FareShare, food banks or whatever mechanism. Those mechanisms have all been put at risk by this crisis because, clearly, retailers and distribution centres that usually are the biggest source of donations for FareShare and others and would have normally have given food away have been holding on to it because they were afraid at the start of the crisis about their supply.202

He considered that “we have Ministers for women, minorities, veterans and the disabled, and we should have a Minister for the hungry” because “no single Ministry or Department has responsibility for that coordination”.203 His suggestion echoed a 2019 recommendation by the Environmental Audit Committee that “the Government appoint a minister with responsibility and accountability for combatting hunger and food insecurity within the UK”, following an inquiry into the Government’s progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on hunger and malnutrition.204

66.Anna Taylor of the Food Foundation considered that “there are lots of good examples of where [Government, local government and charities] have worked together on particular challenge issues” but that:

The problem we have is that we do not have a national co-ordination mechanism, as I would call it: somewhere that those three constituency groups essentially come together with a common understanding of what the need is, where it is and who is experiencing it. That would then drive an allocation of who is going to do what to try to address it.205

She told us that “the problem has been dealt with in quite a piecemeal way” but that Defra had “stepped into a leadership vacuum” and “done a quite incredible job in trying to bring together different parts of Government to address the issue of food vulnerability”.206 However, she stated that “the policies it has leverage over for tackling this issue are reasonably limited” and that “we really need to strengthen that cross-Government leadership, bring in the local authorities and civil society, and come up with a proper national plan for the coming months” because “the chances are that this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better”.207

67.Pre-pandemic, there were campaigns calling for the “right to food” to be enshrined in UK legislation.208 Anna Taylor stated that “we could really progress thinking around the right to food if we start with children, largely because we have food insecurity, which we have widely documented, among children, but we also have very significant inequalities in obesity among children, with double the rates among the poorest children compared to the wealthiest”.209 She suggested that “we need a children’s right to food commission”.210 However, Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City, University of London, told us that “there’s only one piece of legislation for ensuring that everyone is adequately fed, and that is for children”.211 He suggested that “we need a food resilience and sustainability act” and that “the public’s health requires us to equally make sure that adults are well fed, and the elderly as well, because the knock-on to the NHS is absolutely immense”.212 Professor Lang stated that “if you don’t have it in legislation, you don’t have indicators, it doesn’t happen”.213 Anna Taylor added that legislation “drives those accountability mechanisms which we don’t have at the moment, it drives an understanding of what’s going on on the ground”.214 She stated that “if we get the legal structures right, the governance arrangements are right and Parliament is involved in scrutinising those, we will not be in the situation we have now with such high levels of unmet need”.215

68.On 6 July, the House of Lords Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment published its report Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food.216 It considered the right to food and stated that:

On balance, although the intentions of the ‘right to food’ are laudable, the same aims could be achieved through strengthened national governance around food policy, improved monitoring of food insecurity […] and by ensuring that the aims of any national food strategy are supported by robust accountability measures.217

69.We asked Henry Dimbleby, Independent Lead of the National Food Strategy and Non-Executive Director at Defra, about the right to food, and he responded that:

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. […] There is this thing about the food system; it is across numerous Departments and sometimes falls through the cracks. I am not personally convinced that the right to food is the right thing to convene those needs around.218

The National Food Strategy was originally expected to report in Summer 2020, but Henry Dimbleby told us that he was preparing an interim report “on a response to the Covid-19 aspects of the food system, which will include some thinking on food insecurity”.219

70.The Secretary of State highlighted the difficulties of gathering data and stated that the Government had “chosen to address this particular issue in a different way, which is through the Agriculture Bill”.220 He explained that “every five years, required in statute, there will be a food security assessment that will look at self-sufficiency and international food security, as well as household food security within the UK” and that “through that clause in the Agriculture Bill, we have committed to regularly review and monitor this situation”.221 Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union, argued instead that “the mechanism to review food security […] without any shadow of a doubt, that should be looked at on a yearly basis”.222

71.The Secretary of State also highlighted that:

during this crisis we established a cross-Government taskforce to look at the issue of access to food for those who were vulnerable and could not leave home, as well as those who could not afford food. One of the roles of Victoria Prentis, as Minister who covers these issues within Defra, has been to chair that taskforce and pull together other Government Departments to make sure that we have the right response.223

72.One of the key questions for our inquiry was what the COVID-19 pandemic had shown about our food system, not just in terms of food supply, but also demand. There are clearly millions of people whose ability to afford sufficient, nutritious food has been severely disrupted or worsened. Lessons must be learnt from the experience in all four nations on how best to avoid and respond to food insecurity. We are very concerned that this situation will be exacerbated as the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to unfold. We are aware that a combination of ending furlough and a potential second wave of coronavirus may conspire to make the level and severity of food insecurity significantly higher. Therefore, the Government urgently needs a sustainable plan to mitigate the possible growth of food insecurity through a combination of financial and food supply strategies. Following the publication of the National Food Strategy, we recommend that the Government consults on whether a “Right to Food” should be given a legislative footing to ensure the Government has a reference point for action to tackle and measure food insecurity, with the flexibility to meet that commitment using different measures. This should happen as a matter of great urgency, in anticipation of increasing challenges to the food security of the nation post-COVID-19.

73.The Government should amend the Agriculture Bill so that food security assessments should take place yearly, rather than every five years.

74.Responsibility for food falls across several Government departments, but there is a risk that food insecurity falls between the cracks with no clear lead. The establishment of a cross-Government taskforce looking at food insecurity during the pandemic indicated that Defra recognised the value of coordination across Government. However, the national voucher scheme for free school meals would certainly have benefitted from a faster and more joined-up approach between the DfE and Defra. We consider that Defra has made a good effort to tackle the issue, but it alone cannot tackle the causes of and solutions for food insecurity. The Government should measure and report levels of food insecurity across the country. We recommend that the Government appoints a Minister for Food Security, empowered to collect robust data on food insecurity and draw together policy across departments on food supply, nutrition and welfare in order to deliver sustainable change.

99, ‘Food Security Policy Brief’, June 2006; the FAO is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN)

100 Hannah Lambie-Mumford, Daniel Crossley, Eric Jensen, Monae Verbeke and Elizabeth Dowler, Household Food Security in the UK: A Review of Food Aid: Final report, February 2014

101 Food banks in the UK, Commons Research Briefing CBP-8585, House of Commons Library, 15 July 2020, p 5. This does not include food banks operating from schools.

102 Independent Food Aid Network (COV0120)

103 Independent Food Aid Network (COV0120)

104 House of Lords, Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food, Report of the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 85, para 73

106 Food banks in the UK, Commons Research Briefing CBP-8585, House of Commons Library, 15 July 2020, p 5

107 Food banks in the UK, Commons Research Briefing CBP-8585, House of Commons Library, 15 July 2020, p 6

108 The Trussell Trust, State of Hunger 2019 Executive Summary: A study of food insecurity and poverty in the UK, p 4. Households are classed as severely food insecure if one or more adults skip meals, under-eat or go hungry because of lack of money.

111 The Trussell Trust (COV0003)

112 Independent Food Aid Network (COV0120)

113 Independent Food Aid Network (COV0120)

117 The Trussell Trust (COV0153)

120 Food Foundation (COV0114)

121 Work and Pensions Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, DWP’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, HC 178

122 Work and Pensions Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, DWP’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, HC 178, para 33

123 Work and Pensions Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, DWP’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, HC 178, para 34

125 FareShare (COV0065)

126 FareShare (COV0065)

127 FareShare (COV0065)

130 FareShare (COV0065)

131 FareShare (COV0065)

132 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2016–17, Food waste in England, HC 429, para 2

133 Independent Food Aid Network (COV0120)

134 Independent Food Aid Network (COV0120)

135 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0142) para 9.2

139 School meals and nutritional standards (England), Commons Research Briefing SN04195, 22 June 2020, p 4

140 School meals and nutritional standards (England), Commons Research Briefing SN04195, 22 June 2020, p 4

141 GOV.UK, ‘Schools, pupils and their characteristics’, accessed 15 July 2020

143 School meals and nutritional standards (England), Commons Research Briefing SN04195, 22 June 2020, p 23; “Prime Minister’s statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 18 March 2020”, GOV.UK, 18 March 2020

146 “Voucher scheme launches for schools providing free school meals”, GOV.UK press release, 31 March 2020. The £15 is per week per child.

149 Edenred (COV00161)

150 Children’s Food Campaign and School Food Matters (COV0055)

153 Children’s Food Campaign and School Food Matters (COV0055)

154 Children’s Food Campaign and School Food Matters (COV0055); The two retailers offering the facility for vouchers to be used online were Asda and Waitrose, see COV0163.

156 Edenred (COV0161)

157 Lidl (COV0159)

158 Lidl (COV0159)

159 Lidl (COV0159)

160 Jo Whitfield to Neil Parish, correspondence, 11 June 2020

161 Jo Whitfield to Neil Parish, correspondence, 11 June 2020

162 Jo Whitfield to Neil Parish, correspondence, 11 June 2020

163 Association of Convenience Stores (COV0137)

164 Association of Convenience Stores (COV0137)

165 Association of Convenience Stores (COV0137)

175 Local Government Association (COV0091) para 3.2

178 GOV.UK, ‘Guidance for full opening: schools’, accessed 15 July 2020

180 GOV.UK, ‘Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’, accessed 15 July 2020

181 GOV.UK, ‘Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’, accessed 15 July 2020; “Plans to ease guidance for over 2 million shielding”, GOV.UK press release, 22 June 2020

182 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0142) para 10.3

183 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0142) para 10.4

184 Brakes UK (COV0076) para 14

186 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0163)

187 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0142) para 10.2

188 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0142) para 10.6

189 Independent Age (COV0038)

190 Annex A

191 Annex A

192 Newcastle City Council (COV0052) para 1.7

193 Newcastle City Council (COV0052) para 1.8

194 Local Government Association (COV0091) para 4.7

196 Local Government Association (COV0091) para 4.7

197 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (COV0142)

198 “Nutritional content of the government food parcels”, Defra in the media blog, 2 April 2020

199 “Nutritional content of the government food parcels”, Defra in the media blog, 2 April 2020. Ambient foods are those that can be stored at room temperature.

200 “Nutritional content of the government food parcels”, Defra in the media blog, 2 April 2020

201 Food Foundation (COV0114)

204 Environmental Audit Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2017–19, Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK, HC 1491, para 56

208 For example, Sustain, ‘Achieving everyone’s Right to Food’, accessed 15 July 2020

216 House of Lords, Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food, Report of the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 85

217 House of Lords, Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food, Report of the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 85, para 545

219 National Food Strategy, ‘Our Approach & Principles’, accessed 15 July 2020; Q229

Published: 30 July 2020