Written by Lucy Loyseau
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time, with the fallout as extensive as the virus itself. Measures to reduce its spread have impacted not just daily life, but with increasing numbers of people experiencing food insecurity it also threatens to negatively impact future health outcomes.
Food insecurity in the UK is not new, with the Food Foundation (1) reporting 7.6% of households experienced food insecurity pre-covid. However, the response to the outbreak has posed additional challenges, resulting in 9% of households (4.7 million adults) experiencing food insecurity between August 2020 to January 2021 (1).
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity refers to the irregular access to a sufficient quantity and quality of food needed for health, growth and development. At a minimum this means having anxieties about obtaining food but more severely meaning having no food at all (2). The pandemic has made it harder for many individuals to access food, increasing barriers including physical access due to illness, shielding and isolation, and economical access due to reduced working hours, job losses and furlough (1).
Whilst more people are at an increased risk of food insecurity, the pandemic has increased existing inequalities (3), disproportionately affecting individuals with existing health conditions and disabilities, households with children and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals (1, 4).
Food insecurity presents a real threat to nutritional status with individuals commonly making sacrifices in the foods they eat to meet other basic needs, resulting in a reliance on cheaper, poorer quality foods or a reduced quantity of food consumed (5). This can lead to these individuals missing out on essential nutrients, increasing the risk of malnutrition and poorer health outcomes, (5, 6, 7), with the vulnerable and those already in poor health likely to deteriorate further (8).
What is being done to help?
Although various schemes from the government have and continue to provide vital support to the population (9), many individuals are still at risk. The increased use of emergency food aid illustrates the increasing level of food insecurity, with the Trussel Trust (10) recording a 33% increase in foodbank parcel distribution between April 2020 and March 2021. However this does not show the true number of people experiencing food insecurity, with the Food Standards Agency (8) reporting that many individuals are not accessing support.
Having volunteered with my local independent foodbank both prior to and during the pandemic, I have seen first-hand the increased need for food aid, with more people than ever in crisis. I have been inspired by, and am proud to be a part of, a community that has continually provided support when it was needed most. A community made up of not just us volunteers at the food hub but individuals, local businesses and supermarkets donating food, money and other resources to keep this vital service running; providing people with food, and other basic essentials.
Seeing how grateful people are when receiving their parcels, it is clear that the foodbank is making a difference, however this is a short term solution to food insecurity. Individuals deserve the right to, and should be supported to access nutritious food, ensuring a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing (11). Longer term solutions are required to tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity, protecting those most vulnerable and improve health outcomes of the population.
Food Foundation (2021). A Crisis within a Crisis: The Impact of Covid-19 on Household Security. Available from: FF_Impact-of-Covid_FINAL.pdf (foodfoundation.org.uk) [Accessed 15th May 2021].
Food and Agricultural Organisation (2021). Hunger and food insecurity. Available from: Hunger | FAO | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [Accessed 15th May 2021].
Public Health England. (2020). Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19. Available from Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19 (publishing.service.gov.uk) [Accessed 15th May 2021].
Loopstra, R. (2020). Vulnerability to food insecurity since the COVID-19 lockdown: Preliminary report. Available from: Report_COVID19FoodInsecurity-final.pdf (foodfoundation.org.uk) [Accessed 15th May 2021].
Food Standards Agency (2021). Food in a Pandemic. Available from: Renew Normal: Food in a Pandemic [Accessed 18th May 2021].
BAPEN. (2018). Introduction to Malnutrition. Available from: Introduction to Malnutrition (bapen.org.uk) [Accessed 18th May 2021].
Yau, A., White, M., Hammond, D., White, C., & Adams. Sociodemographic characteristics, diet, and health among food insecure UK adults: cross sectional analysis of the International Food Policy Study . Public Health Nutrition. 2020; 23 (14). Available from: Socio-demographic characteristics, diet and health among food insecure UK adults: cross-sectional analysis of the International Food Policy Study | Public Health Nutrition | Cambridge Core [Accessed 18th May 2021].
Food Standards Agency (2020). The lived experience of food insecurity under Covid-19: A Bright Harbour Collective Report for the Food Standards Agency. Available from: The lived experience of food insecurity under Covid-19 [Accessed 18th May 2021].
GOV (2021). Coronavirus (COVID-19). Available from: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance and support - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) [Accessed 20th May 2021].
Trussel Trust (2021). End of year stats. Available from: End of Year Stats - The Trussell Trust - Bing [Accessed 20th May 2021].
United Nations (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Available from: Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations [Accessed 15th May 2021].