School children

Three million people have suffered from hunger in the UK since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, startling new figures have indicated.

A new YouGov poll commissioned by theFood Foundationand the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission (FFCC) found that 1.5 million (three per cent) have gone a whole day without eating since the lockdown came into effect, and 7.1m (14 per cent) say someone in their household has had to reduce or skip meals because they could not access or afford sufficient sustenance.

Of the 8.1mpeople (16 per cent) facing food insecurity, 21 per cent didn’t have enough money to buy adequate food supplies, 50 per cent were unable to get the food they needed from the shops due to shortages and 25 per cent were unable to leave their homes and had no other way to get the food they needed. Given that shortages have subsided, a proportion of the problem was likely to be short term, the Food Foundation said.

Just three weeks into the lockdown, more than three million(six per cent) have already had to borrow money or take out personal loans as a result of Covid-19, though this has not increased in the last 14 days. Some two per cent of respondents, equivalent to more than one millionpeople, said they’ve lost all of their income, but 38 per cent of those who reported a drop in income think they are not entitled to help from the government.

The government’s free school meal replacement programme means that 63 per cent of the households with children (aged 8-16) eligible for free school meals report receiving a substitute – up from 54 per cent two weeks ago - and 62 per cent say they will be getting support during the Easter holiday, thanks in part to the government’s decision to extend the free school meal voucher scheme beyond term-time.

The Food Foundation said that this shows encouraging movement in the right direction, but will still leave 507,000children without the free school meals on which they relied before the lockdown, and 260,000will still not receive the support they need over the holidays.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “We cannot rely on food banks to support the millions of people who need emergency food aid during this crisis: it is too big a problem, and urgently requires substantial investment from central government. The government must put money in the pockets of families who can’t afford food, and support local authorities to scale up the food response for those who are self-isolating so they can secure enough food to sustain themselves and their children. Other countries are doing this, so can we.”

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, said: “Independent food banks in our network are seeing as much as a 300 per cent increase in footfall compared to this time last year. Meanwhile they are struggling to source enough or appropriate food because of reduced donations, limited access to supermarkets and diminished surplus supply. Unless the UK government takes action to reduce poverty levels by increasing benefit payments and enabling cash grants, this situation will continue to spiral out of control.”