Millions of people in Britain are going hungry during the coronavirus crisis, according to new research.
It shows the effects of government failure and that catastrophic falls in income have pushed many families into poverty during the lockdown.
A poll commissioned by the Food Foundation and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission found that 1 million people have gone a whole day without eating since the lockdown came into effect. It also estimated that 7.1 million say someone in their household has had to reduce or skip meals “because they could not access or afford sufficient sustenance”.
Just three weeks into the lockdown, more than three million people have already had to borrow money or take out personal loans.
The sharp rise in food poverty is being driven by people being left isolated without support and a lack of money as millions of workers are newly unemployed, furloughed—laid off—or dependent on government support.
“There is a food poverty problem that has not been dealt with, and we’re seeing the results of that now,” said Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation. “On top of that, we have new problems around isolation and shortages — people are telling us they simply can’t get out to get the food they need.”
Among those who said they were facing food insecurity, 50 percent said they were struggling because of pandemic-related shortages and 25 percent because they could not leave their homes to shop. Some 21 per cent were hungry because they simply did not have enough money.
None of this is inevitable. If the resources of Royal Mail and Amazon were taken from their owners and directed under social control then it would be possible to plan to deliver what people need. Instead both companies continue to be driven by profit.
The other simple measure is to give people more money.
The equivalent of 1 million people told the survey they had lost all their income since the lockdown had begun.
To address the lack of cash faced by those who have lost their jobs, the foundation and other campaigners have also called for an end to the five-week wait for Universal Credit—the government benefit which 950,000 new claimants have applied for since 16 March—and to double child benefit.
These would be a start. But much more is needed. In a statement to financial markets on Thursday, the government announced it would extend the size of the government’s bank account at the central bank, known historically as the “Ways and Means Facility”, which normally stands at just £370 million.
This will now rise to an effectively unlimited amount, allowing ministers to spend more on business support without raising money through the borrowing market.
If tens or hundreds of billions of pounds are available to companies, then it is perfectly possible to double all benefits and, for example, to give every adult £2,000 immediately as a first step to ensure nobody is hungry