Food vulnerability during COVID-19

This research project will map and monitor responses addressing concerns about insufficient food access during the COVID-19 outbreak.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments, local authorities, charities and local communities have been working to ensure access to food for those facing new risks of food insecurity due to being unable to go out for food or to income losses arising from the COVID-19 crisis. New schemes have been developed, such as governments replacing incomes of people at risk of unemployment on account of the lockdown, providing food parcels for people asked to shield, referrals for people to receive voluntary help with grocery shopping, and free school meals replacement vouchers or cash transfers. These have been working alongside existing provision for those unable to afford food – such as food banks – which has also seen a dramatic rise in demand during lockdown. The result has been a complex set of support structures which have been developing and changing as the COVID-19 outbreak, and its impacts, evolve.

About the project

The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the UKRI Ideas to Address COVID-19 grant call and runs from July 2020 to January 2022. The research aims to provide collaborative, real time monitoring and analysis of food support systems to inform food access policy and practice as the UK emerges from the COVID-19 lockdown and going forward, as the longer-term socio-economic impacts of the crisis become clearer.

The research team is led by the University of Sheffield and King’s College London alongside colleagues from Sustain : the alliance for better food and farming and Church Action on Poverty. Full details of the team are below. Collaboration with partners and stakeholders is at the heart of the project. The research team will work with people working in national and local government, the civil service, third sector, NGOs as well as people who accessed food and financial assistance during the pandemic.

Reports will be produced throughout the project including systems maps, case study reports and system monitoring reports. We hope these reports will be used to inform policy and practice decision making throughout the COVID-19 response. A final project report and further academic and policy outputs will also be produced.

Aims of the project

  • Undertake comprehensive mapping of food access support systems during COVID-19, highlighting key areas of vulnerability within them and identifying links to other support systems.
  • Develop and apply methods for monitoring and evaluating food access for groups at greater risk of food insecurity during the COVID-19 outbreak and through the easement of lockdown restrictions.
  • Develop ‘exit strategies’ for managing the transition out of systems that will not be provided after the crisis.
  • Establish ‘best practice’ protocols for resiliency planning for the future.

The three aspects of the project

National level food access systems mapping and monitoring
Looking at food access support across the UK during the COVID-19 outbreak, national level mapping and monitoring will be done in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as at a UK level. National level stakeholders (for example from devolved governments and national voluntary organisations) from across the four countries of the UK will be involved in understanding and monitoring the way support for food access has evolved and is operating across the country.

Participatory Policy Panel
In order to fully understand food access responses, it is crucial to hear directly from those with lived experience of food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis. In partnership with Church Action on Poverty, the project will convene a participatory policy panel made up of people who have direct experience of a broad range of support to access food. Meeting regularly throughout the project period (Oct 2020-Dec 2021), the panel will use a range of participatory and creative methods to share and reflect on their experiences and contribute these to policy recommendations.

Local area case studies
Eight local areas will be the focus for more in depth case study research. Working with local stakeholders in these areas, the research will map what responses in these areas have looked like and how it is operating. The research will follow developments in these areas through the duration of the project.

Project reports

The first project report - Mapping responses to the risk of rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis across the UK - was published in August 2020. The report sets out findings from a scoping of national policies and programmes that were made available during the crisis. The mapping involved systematically searching and analysing publicly available information on responses to food insecurity during the crisis to date (March – July 2020). The first report is a “living document”, providing the groundwork for the second phase of the research which looks at how these interventions have worked in practice.

The second project report – Monitoring responses to the risk of rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis across the UK – was published in December 2020. Following our previous mapping of the range of national programmes and policies intended to enhance access to food for people at economic and physical risk of food insecurity in the UK between March and July 2020, the second report looks at how four of these national interventions worked in practice: replacement school food provision, emergency finance, emergency food provision and the grocery box scheme for people who were on the shielding list.

Contact us

  • If you have questions on the project, or any publicly available data or reports that may be relevant, please get in touch at
  • If you would like to share your own experiences of using food provision services during the pandemic please get in touch with Niall Cooper.

The Research Team

Hannah Lambie-Mumford

Hannah Lambie-Mumford co-leads the research team. Hannah is a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield and a Research Fellow at SPERI. She has undertaken research on food insecurity, food charity and public policy responses for funders including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the British Academy. Her work has explored in particular the rise and political economy of food charity systems in the UK and comparatively across Europe.

Rachel Loopstra

Rachel Loopstra co-leads the research team. Rachel is a lecturer in the Department of Nutrition at King’s College London. She conducts research on household food insecurity and food bank use in the UK. Rachel sits on the advisory board of the Food Foundation and has been working with them to monitor food insecurity since the COVID-19 lockdown. Rachel and Hannah co-lead ENUF, an Evidence hub and Network for UK Food insecurity research.

Katy Gordon

Katy Gordon has worked as a qualitative researcher and local authority practitioner on community food issues across Scotland. In her current research and knowledge exchange role at the University of Sheffield working with ENUF, Katy has developed food access policy and practitioner networks across the devolved nations.

Simon Shaw

Simon Shaw is the head of the food poverty programme at Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. As part of his work, Simon manages the Food Power programme supporting food poverty alliances around the UK. Within this programme he leads on alliance development, food poverty action planning and evaluation. Simon brings to the project connections and working relationships with food poverty alliances across the UK as well as national level insight on the work of the voluntary and community sector in responding to local needs.

Niall Cooper

Niall Cooper is Director of Church Action on Poverty, a national ecumenical Christian social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. Niall has led on several flagship participatory policy programmes and will oversee the facilitation of the system users panel drawing on this unique experience.

Jane Perry

Since 2008, Jane Perry has worked in a freelance capacity supporting a range of organisations including Church Action on Poverty, Church Urban Fund, Oxfam and Save the Children to design, conduct and communicate research and evaluation. This work includes Emergency Use Only, the first systematic UK-wide investigation into food bank use; and the Listen Up! project exploring the impact of welfare reform. Jane previously worked within government, at the Department for Work and Pensions, and for the Policy Studies Institute and National Centre for Social Research.