Community Sector Provides Rapid Response To Food Insecurities

Voluntary Sector organisations from the South West launch a report revealing the impact of collaboration on vulnerable communities

Food insecurity has been on the rise in the UK for several years. Many issues surrounding it have been exacerbated by the pandemic. For many people living with food insecurities, things are about to get worse. The £20 top up to Universal Credit is set to come to an end in October, coupled with the end of furlough. A group of voluntary sector organisations collaborated to commission a report, examining food vulnerability.

The Food Insecurities Report, completed by Rose Regeneration demonstrates the importance of collaboration in the pandemic. Food insecurity provides a lens through which to understand a wider range of impacts linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, food insecurity demonstrates the role that the voluntary and community sector (VCS) has played in the pandemic – not just in helping to provide food support, but in linking this support to mitigate the effects of the broader social and economic impacts on local communities. Many of the issues identified in this report and the response to them predate the pandemic, which has brought them to a head. A huge civic effort, organised at the local level, has demonstrated the significant capacity of local people to solve big challenges when faced by a crisis without undue direction and, in some cases, with very little external funding.

The report was prepared for the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP SW) and is intended to support them move away from emergency and towards recovery, in a space where ‘business as usual’ will not be an option for many communities.

Key features of lived experience

  • An inability to build and draw on financial safety nets – low-paid work, zero hours contracts, mixed self-employment/salaried work, and/or work in unpredictable sectors left people financially exposed under Covid-19
  • Caring responsibilities which limited income potential and raised outgoings – particularly but not only for women and single parents.
  • Health and mental health challenges – 70% were experiencing chronic health issues prior to Covid-19; 65% long-term mental health issues.
  • Elimination of social food sharing – many had previously counted on meals with others (e.g. a family Sunday roast) to stretch their weekly food budgets.
  • People struggling to afford supermarket delivery fees – e.g., if isolating; c.£4-£6 for grocery delivery is a big percentage of a £25/£30 weekly food budget.
  • Reduced access to ‘budget’ shops and not being able to ‘bargain shop’ – the inability to reliably access preferred supermarkets increased costs.
  • Increased competition for ‘value’ and ‘budget’ brands – cheaper items were often already taken by others, leaving only expensive branded items.
  • Price increases by shops which charged more for basics when Covid-19 hit.
  • People relying on others to help with food shopping – but feeling too ashamed to dictate brand choices or supermarket choice, raising spend

 

A positive example is the Swindon Food Alliance. The Swindon Food Alliance was formed during the first Covid-19 lockdown period in 2020. It brings together key partners including, amongst others, Swindon Food Collective, Citizens Advice, Swindon Scrap Store, Swindon Night Shelter, Bags of Hope and representatives from the emergency assistance and public health teams at Swindon BC.

Pam Webb, CEO of Voluntary Action Swindon says: “Coming together enabled a more joined up response. For example, a flyer promoting and signposting the range of support services available from Citizens Advice around debt management, benefit advice and other support services was co-produced quickly. The flyer was printed by VAS but with printing costs covered by the local authority, and then distributed by the charities in the free food boxes being delivered.”

The food alliance group has continued to meet to share learning and experience across statutory and voluntary services and a WhatsApp group has also been set up which provides a quick and efficient way for those distributing food and supplies to share peaks and troughs in donations.

Key findings of the report:

  1. The voluntary and community sector has played a central role in the local food response to the Covid-19 crisis
  2. Whilst the nature of the response in each locality reflects the geography, demographics and capacity of each area, there are key common themes
  3. The Covid-19 crisis has allowed new approaches to develop quickly, with VCS organisations often having increased agency to make decisions and shape approaches within cross-sector partnerships
  4. The challenge now is to ensure that local food strategies move effectively from emergency response to providing sustainable support that links to wider agendas around poverty, health, and local sustainability.
  5. Future approaches should be based on a clear, evidenced understanding of need at a local level

 

Robyn Knox VCSEP Director said, “This report supports the vital inclusion of voluntary and community sector organisations in building a resilient society. It also highlights how existing social inequalities can so easily be exacerbated in an emergency situation. We hope to see more inclusion of the voluntary and community sector in local resilience building and in influencing and co-creating positive health outcomes for all.”

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