Covid-19 commentary: Millions do not have access to enough food

Getting enough food to every household is still the major challenge. The consequences of not tackling this challenge will be severe suffering for individuals, with long-term consequences for individuals, communities and society as a whole.

1: There are two main factors why so many people can’t access food, and, for an unfortunate number of us, it’s sometimes a combination of the two:

Physical access: they either can’t get to a retail outlet, or get on-line deliveries.

Economic access: Or they are one of the dramatically growing number of people who cannot afford to buy sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious food — some can’t afford to buy any food.

  • Some of the key stats are summarised in this 12th April blogpost, in which we recommended the UK Government trials a universal basic income.Many of the huge issues associated with the current situation regarding economic access to food are succinctly summarised in the Trussell Trust submission to the EFRA Select Committee Inquiry on Covid-19 and food supply, issues will become even more acute with even more price rises on the way.
  • There is little data about the numbers of people who either can’t physically get out to buy food and/or don’t have enough money to buy food. What we do know, however, is that the numbers of people without enough money to buy life’s essentials, including food, runs into millions of us.
    • An early indicator of massively increased need is the sheer volume of people applying for Universal Credit, nearly one million in a single fortnight.
    • On 1st May, Citizens Advice reported up to 6M people are already behind in paying a bill, ad 7M more are expected to fall behind.
    • These numbers of people will increase by a further 1.3M or more if the furlough scheme isn’t extended beyond the end of June.
    • We need remember, too, the prevalence food insecurity before Covid:
      • This 2017 UNICEF Working Paper by Pereira et al, based on 2014-15 data, found 20% of UK children were living in moderately or severely insecure households, with 12% in severely food insecure households, the latter the worst figure across Europe (the European average is 4%). The Children’s Future Food Inquiry (2019) estimated one in three UK children (4.1M) were living in poverty.

And while food insecurity is on the rise, the wastage of food, which rose suddenly and dramatically with the closing down of the hospitality sector and its supporting food service supply system, is still continuing, despite considerable efforts to access it by retail-facing outlets and charities and community groups making valiant efforts to divert these supplies to those in need.

The third section of earlier blogpost, The food supply system into the second month of lockdown had the title Logistics, logistics, logistics.

For millions of UK citizens, though, it’s a matter of money, money, money.

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2: Desperate people are prey for scammers, the unscrupulous and organised crime: In an earlier blogpost about the risks inherent in loosening regulations, there is an image of a twitter exchange between @NFCUCrimeFlops and ourselves (replicated again here) about ‘raw milk’ being on sale on Facebook, and for delivery in West Bromwich.

How many people see the dangers in buying such produce? We already know that dodgy food hygiene is far more prevalent in more deprived neighbourhoods.

And, even when you do understand the risks, taking a chance  may seem small compared to assuaging the relentless gnaw of hunger.

In addition to the (sometimes lethal) consequences on the individual taking such risks, there are two ways in which society as a whole benefits from preventing such choices:

  • First, if a food poisoning outbreak occurs, it can spread alarmingly quickly, with considerable impact on hospitals and public health.
  • Secondly, any fraudulent food activity, whether involving small or large scale criminal enterprise, undermines the integrity of local and global food systems.

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note: Way back in early December 2019 when Covid-19 was a few cases of an unknown illness the other side of the world, I wrote this blogpost: We treat non-existent things as entities. A ‘privative’ is a useful concept to notice when we do. Scroll down to the unfortunately apt image of Terry Pratchett’s DEATH for these days. There you can read the following paragraphs, listed here as bullet points:

  • Another example of a privative is ‘poverty’. It doesn’t exist. Poverty is a privative, a lack of something. Money.
  • Rights are about reality. No-one has a right to food poverty, say. Rather they have a right to having sufficient, safe, nutritious food for them to have a healthy active life. And for most adults in most societies today, that means having enough money to buy it.
  • Moreover, providing essentials directly, as through food banks for example, is not good enough when viewing such transactions through an ethical ‘lens’, for the reasons explained in blogpost #11: City level responses to food security.

note: The last [bulleted paragraph and their] two links were added on 23rd February 2020, and take you to two blogposts written to support our submission to the National Food Strategy Call for Evidence.

 

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The Birmingham Food Council is a Community Interest Company registered in England and Wales number 8931789