Food poverty and inequalities in the UK exposed by the pandemic

Images of inadequate free school lunch parcels, empty supermarket shelves and snaking queues for food banks often dominated the UK news headlines during the national lockdowns. The pandemic shone a light on the vast food inequalities experienced in the UK and it didn’t make for comfortable reading. While some people were able to take advantage of more time spent at home to source locally produced, healthy groceries, many families on lower incomes found themselves reliant on food banks, the benefits system and reduced choice. A large number of older people, many already at risk of malnutrition and living with existing health conditions, were left isolated and unable to do their weekly food shop safely.

But once the headlines stop and the news cycle moves on, these issues don’t disappear. At the University of Hertfordshire, we’re engaged in ongoing work with professionals involved in food provision across local authorities, health and care services and the voluntary sector to ensure everyone involved in the provision of food and public health is aware of the food security issues faced by vulnerable communities.

We conducted a study with residents, community stakeholders and professionals involved in food provision across the East of England between May 2020 and January 2021 to discover how the pandemic was directly affecting people’s access to food and their eating habits, particularly among vulnerable groups in society.

From our findings on behalf of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England, we have provided guidance and recommendations for policymakers to improve food security for vulnerable communities over the coming months.

Our researchers in the Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care continue to focus on understanding food inequalities in the UK to provide insights and recommendations that will help policymakers and front-line services work towards ensuring vulnerable groups of people are always able to access nutritious food.

Find out more about our Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care.