Debate on food supply and security in the UK in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, House of Lords, 14 May 2020

Councils are working hard supporting people with a range of vulnerabilities to continue to access food throughout the coronavirus pandemic. This includes assisting with the delivery of doorstep food deliveries, and to people outside the shielded group who are unable to access food or have issues affording it.

  • This support has been delivered at pace, and in several instances, in response to a rapidly changing national response to the pandemic. The situation has posed a range of challenges to local government.
  • Despite national government work on resolving issues relating to data on shielded individuals, there remain instances of inconsistent and duplicated data along with delays in providing updates. It means councils are spending a significant amount time cleansing data and trying to identify means of contacting extremely vulnerable individuals.
  • To ensure non-shielded vulnerable people are supported in the community, councils need access to volunteers who can shop and then deliver groceries to those who need it. There is a need to ensure that full access to the GoodSam app is granted to all local partners, including the VCS as well as councils.
  • Prior to the pandemic, a significant minority of households were struggling to access healthy food and were therefore relying on food banks and other community-based food projects. These existing challenges have been compounded by social distancing measures. Many households are also likely to face straitened circumstances for some time after the initial effects of the pandemic are over.
  • Councils remain concerned about their ability to meet the needs of some groups for whom they have new or ambiguous responsibilities, such as those who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) or rough sleepers. Funding to provide emergency accommodation has been provided on public health grounds, but the new requirement to provide food to these groups has not been funded, and the extent of councils’ longer-term responsibilities towards these groups remains unclear.
  • It is also unclear whether the funding made available to councils will be enough to reimburse them for the additional financial hardship and food poverty support that they are providing to low income households. Without sufficient funding and co-ordinated support, many low-income households will inevitably struggle to access good quality food both now and in the wake of the crisis.
  • It is vital that as we work to rebuild our local economies, we have a joined-up cross-sector approach to ensuring that people from all backgrounds are able to access healthy, affordable food.

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Debate on food supply and security in the UK in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, House of Lords, 14 May 2020