Food vulnerability during COVID-19

This research project is mapping and monitoring responses to household food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 due to income losses arising from the crisis. New schemes have been developed, such as governments replacing incomes of people at risk of unemployment on account of lockdowns, 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 have been adapting their services to continue to meet increasing demand from a range of population groups. The result has been a complex set of support structures which have been developing and changing as the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 monitoring and analysis of food support systems to inform food access policy and practice. 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 is working with stakeholders from national and local government, the civil service, third sector, NGOs as well as people who are accessing food and financial assistance during the pandemic.

Project work packages

Work package 1: National level food access systems mapping and monitoring

Looking at food access support across the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic, national level mapping and monitoring is taking place  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 nations are working with us to understand and monitor  how support for food access has evolved and is operating across the UK.

Work package 1 publications

Mapping responses to the risk of rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis across the UK (published August 2020). The report sets out findings from a scoping of national policies and programmes that were made available during the early months of the crisis. The mapping involved systematically searching and analysing publicly available information on responses to food insecurity during the national lockdown across March – July 2020). The 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.

Monitoring responses to the risk of rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis across the UK (published 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 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.

Work package 2: Participatory Policy Panel

To fully understand food access responses, it is crucial to hear directly from those with lived experience of food insecurity during the pandemic. In partnership with Church Action on Poverty, we have convened 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 is using a range of participatory and creative methods to share and reflect on their experiences and contribute these to policy recommendations.

Work package 2 publications

Navigating Storms (published October 2021).
Published in partnership with Church Action on Poverty the report draws on material generated by the participatory panel. The panel shared their experience of accessing food during the pandemic for both themselves and for their communities. Having shared their experiences and ideas, the panel developed five overarching lessons on how policy-makers, at all levels, could deliver better for those most at risk, in crises and at all times. Navigating Storms, which was launched as part of Challenge Poverty week 2021, reports on these experiences, insights and lessons.

Work package 3: Local area case studies

Fourteen local areas across the UK are the focus for more in depth case study research. Working with local stakeholders in each area, the research will map what local responses have looked like and how they are operating. The research will follow developments in these areas through the duration of the project.

Work package 3 publications

Comparing local responses to household food insecurity during COVID-19 across the UK (March – August 2020) – Executive Summary (published July 2021).
The Executive Summary sets out the key findings and take aways from the comparative report of 14 in depth case studies, which were undertaken to explore local responses to food access issues between March-August 2020.

Comparing local responses to household food insecurity during COVID-19 across the UK (March – August 2020) (published July 2021).
This comparative report presents findings from a cross-case analysis of 14 local case studies which were undertaken to explore local responses to food access issues between March-August 2020 (the first UK COVID-19 lockdown). Drawing on the data gathered in individual case studies, the report details the phases of the response, the range of actors and interventions put in place to support people with food access, and the resources that supported this response. From this comparative study, key takeaways and questions raised by the research are presented.

Eight local case studies are presented in the Mapping local responses: March to August 2020 reports: Argyll and Bute, Belfast, Cardiff, Derry and Strabane, Herefordshire, Moray, Swansea, West Berkshire (published July 2021).
Drawing from data collected during interviews, workshops and desk-based research, the eight individual reports provide rich detail on the actors and interventions in each local authority area. Following a descriptive mapping key themes and stakeholders’ reflections are provided.

Local Area Case Studies – Methodological Appendix (published July 2021).
This appendix sets out the research methods that were undertaken in the Autumn/Winter of 2020/21 for the local area case studies.

Local responses to household food insecurity during COVID-19 across the UK (March – August 2020): Full report (published July 2021).
This publication combines all of the reports detailed above to include all case studies, cross case analysis and the methodological appendix.

Local responses to household food insecurity across the UK during COVID-19 (September 2020 – September 2021) (published February 2022).
Building on the previous case studies, this report presents findings from a second phase of research exploring how local responses to food access issues during the COVID-19 pandemic evolved after August 2020. It looks at local level responses to risks of household food insecurity between September 2020 and September 2021, with a particular focus on the work of local councils, food aid providers, and community food initiatives as well as local collaboration and partnership working. Drawing on data collected through a series of online workshops with third sector and council practitioners, the report provides an analysis of experiences of responding to food insecurity from 14 local areas from around the UK and makes recommendations for future policy and practice.

Local responses to household food insecurity across the UK during COVID-19 (September 2020 – September 2021) - Executive Summary (published February 2022).
The Executive Summary sets out the key findings, lessons and more immediate questions arising from a series of online workshops with practitioners, both council and third sector, which were undertaken to explore local responses to food insecurity between September 2020 - September 2021.

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.

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.

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.

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