The Covid-19 pandemic has increased food insecurity across the UK, according to a new report.

Research by the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), in partnership with Oxfam, found rising need has been driven mainly by a reduction in income and income crises – affecting mostly those who were already on low incomes but also introducing new people to the realities of life with little money.

Meanwhile the cost of living rose and travel restrictions made it difficult for people to access food banks and cheaper shops.

The report also highlights the impact of lockdown on food aid and their “wrap-around” services, such as mental health support and benefit advice which were suspended due to the pandemic.

It states: “While rising food insecurity meant a rise of demand for food aid, food banks were forced either to close or to reorganise their operation in order to comply with social distancing and lockdown rules.

“Covid-19 and its shielding requirements meant that the many volunteers over 70 years of age could no longer support the running of food banks. This vital human resource was lost at the height of the crisis when it was needed most.”

The report says that without action to tackle the underlying drivers of the income crisis during the recovery from Covid-19, progress towards achieving the “Zero Hunger” element of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will be more challenging.

Hartwig Pautz, a senior lecturer in social sciences at UWS who co-authored the report, said: “This report notes the serious impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the financial situation of already vulnerable and marginalised groups and on the access that these groups have had to food.

“The pandemic has meant that food insecurity became even worse for these groups, and also highlights how those working to mitigate and challenge food insecurity were affected by the pandemic – both food aid and the important ‘wrap-around’ services such as employment or mental health advice have often been lost.

Food parcels
The report found travel restrictions made it harder for people to access food banks and cheaper shops (PA)

“Our research has therefore emphasised the necessity of challenging the drivers that create food insecurity if the goal of ending hunger is to be achieved.”

The research focused on four demographic groups identified as being most likely to be at higher risk of food insecurity, even in “normal times” – the homeless, young carers aged under 18 and young adult carers aged 16-25, people seeking asylum, and people with disabilities.

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “Scottish politicians have known for years that food banks aren’t a sustainable answer to food insecurity; a fact that’s been clearly illustrated during the pandemic as they understandably struggled to meet surging demand for their services.

“The solution is not and has never been to simply give people charitable food to put on the table, it’s to make sure they have enough money to buy food themselves and that demands action to bolster the social safety net and to tackle in-work poverty.”