08 Jan 2021
In this third nation-wide lockdown, the British Dietetic Association has called on governments across the UK to finally take urgent and sustained action on food insecurity for people of all ages.
With people once again shielding, schools closed, more jobs at risk and support networks restricted, we will no doubt see many more people facing hunger.
Dietitians, as frontline health professionals and nutrition experts, see the impact of food insecurity and malnutrition every day. They have the knowledge and skills to tackle it, but require support as part of a system-wide approach.
Even before COVID-19 a shameful number of people were food insecure, and previous lockdowns have seen millions more were affected. As well as those facing poverty, food insecurity impacts people who are physically unable to properly feed themselves, living in isolation or suffering with mental illness.
Malnutrition continues to affect millions of people, many of them older, reducing quality of life and increasing costs for the health and social care sector.
Thanks to efforts from Marcus Rashford, charities and trade unions, the government finally took steps to address food insecurity for some of these groups a few months ago. However, this does not address or resolve this issue long term.
The government needs to take action quickly and decisively to address the root causes of food insecurity, not just the symptoms.
This lockdown comes on top of the UK’s recent exit from the EU, which provides an additional challenge. Although the BDA welcomes the signing of an agreement with the EU as preferrable to an unplanned “no-deal”, there is still significant uncertainty and potential for disruption.
We have already seen food shortages in Northern Ireland due to confusion around new customs arrangements.
The longer-term impact on food prices, standards and others aspects of our food system is not clear and is only likely to emerge as the implications of this deal are better understood over time.
It is widely anticipated that Brexit will have an economic impact that will have the biggest effect on the most vulnerable members of our society. The government must mitigate this.
The Prime Minister has said he wants to use our exit from the EU to focus on reducing health, economic and social inequalities in the UK. If he is sincere in this ambition, here are some key steps he can take in relation to food security and nutrition in the short and the long term:
- Reverse the decision to end the £20 uplift in the value of Universal Credit in April 2021. Instead consider whether a further uplift is necessary as a result of the latest lockdown and any longer term increases in the cost of living as a result of Brexit.
- Provide specific support to care homes to avoid worsening malnutrition, including ensuring they have first priority for food deliveries from supermarkets and other suppliers.
- Bolster support to underfunded local authorities through the Emergency Assistance Fund for Food and Essential Supplies to help them deal with the impacts of COVID-19 on food security.
- Ensure that funding and support is made available for vital NHS dietetic services and third sector nutrition and food services, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond it.
- Implement as a matter of urgency the findings of the Independent Hospital Food Review in England, which includes additional funding for hospital catering within the NHS.
- Introduce a legally enshrined “Right to Food”, as laid out within the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the UK, to ensure that governments at both a national and local level take appropriate action.
- Invest in proactive case-finding in care homes and the community to locate and help individuals at risk of malnutrition and an upstream, prevention-based approach to prevent people becoming malnourished or food insecure in the first place.
- Ensure all current and future trade deals continue to protect our food, welfare and public health standards as has been promised on numerous occasions.
- Support local authorities to reinstate sustainable solutions to food insecurity such as meals on wheels. Reverse a decade of cuts to local authority public health budgets.