Almost two million children short on food over course of pandemic, study suggests

Survey finds 16 per cent of respondents reported children going a day without food

Arjun Neil Alim
Wednesday 09 December 2020 18:54
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<p>Staff and volunteers pack and prepare food parcels at the south London warehouse and distribution centre at St Margaret’s Church</p>

Staff and volunteers pack and prepare food parcels at the south London warehouse and distribution centre at St Margaret’s Church

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Almost two million children have been short on food in the UK since the start of the pandemic, a survey has suggested.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) report, titled Measuring and mitigating child hunger in the UK, suggests that child hunger and food insecurity have been exacerbated by the coronavirus with one in four children in the UK having faced some form of food deprivation.

From a representative survey of 1,000 parents, 18 per cent said they could not afford balanced meals while 16 per cent reported that a child went an entire day without eating.

Five of the 10 authorities with the highest share of children at risk of hunger are in London, with the others in Devon and Lancashire, the SMF found.

The findings come as The Independent’s Help The Hungry campaign strives to tackle food poverty by partnering with charities to provide healthy and nutritious meals to vulnerable people every day in the run-up to Christmas.

Aveek Bhattacharya, chief economist at the SMF, said: “The stark evidence in this report shows that the challenge of food insecurity and child hunger is even greater and more urgent than many observers had thought and feared. The idea of a single child going short of food is heartbreaking but our evidence shows that almost 2 million children have been in that awful situation this year.”

“Our analysis of food insecurity at a local authority level shows that this is a problem that is faced across the country, from our capital city to the rural southwest of England and the towns of the northwest. Food insecurity and child hunger are an urgent national challenge.”

In April, the Children’s Commissar estimated that 1.2 million children had a furloughed parent and three million were in households that had lost between a fifth and half of their income.

Households where the principal earner worked in hospitality, retail or construction saw the biggest spike in child food insecurity, the SMF found.

The foundation estimates that 19.1 per cent of children in London are experiencing “very low food security” – the highest of any region in Britain, followed by the southwest.

The SMF, a cross-party think tank, is urging the government to implement the recommendations set out by the National Food Strategy, including expanding free school meals and extending holiday programmes. The foundation also recommends retaining the temporary £20 increase in universal credit.

The report was sponsored by Deliveroo, which also gave £50,000 to The Independent’s Help The Hungry social kitchen. The initiative aims to supply 1.5 million meals to vulnerable people each year.

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