Socialist Worker

Poorest show ‘early signs’ of malnutrition in coronavirus crisis

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2718

Some 25 percent of food bank users said they went because of losing their jobs

Some 25 percent of food bank users said they went because of losing their jobs (Pic: Howard Lake on Flickr)


Poor people are in a food crisis—with many showing “early signs” of malnutrition.

They don’t have enough to eat as bosses axe their jobs and benefits are hard to access and grossly inadequate.

A devastating new study shows up to one in ten people have been forced to use food banks, and vast numbers have been skipping meals and going hungry.

The figures come from the government’s food safety watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It said families struggling with a big fall in income had moved to highly restrictive “basic sustenance” diets that largely cut out healthy foods.

Food during the coronavirus crisis was “a continual source of concern and worry” rather than nourishment and security for many families, it found. “Many quickly cut calorie intake and reduced the quality of the food eaten—with far-reaching physical and emotional impact,” it said

“Many children went without.”

People forced to food banks as they are ‘swept into destitution’
People forced to food banks as they are ‘swept into destitution’
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For the better off, Covid-19 has provided nutritional benefits, the FSA noted. Its survey showed more people cooking at home from scratch using healthy ingredients rather than having takeaways or buying processed meals, as well as enjoying more family meals together.

These benefits were denied to people in food insecurity, whose diet narrowed sharply and was biased towards cheap carbohydrates like rice and pasta.

One man, the FSA study found, “ate mostly tinned peas on toast; another woman mostly bread.” Many showed “early signs” of malnutrition. Others put on weight.

Such grim experiences underline that the Tories’ call for people to be healthy and lose weight are a hollow mockery.

Increasing food prices meant some doubled their food spend, even though they ate less. Many struggled to afford food used to manage their health—such as gluten-free. Birthday meals and Sunday lunches were cancelled. “There was little sense of social sharing when serving toast for the second ‘meal’ of the day,” the study round.

The FSA is concerned that many people in food insecurity reported regularly eating food beyond its use-by date such as bagged salad, cheese and smoked fish. Over a quarter said they drank milk that was past its use-by date. “Stretching out” food in this way put them at risk of food poisoning.

Changed 

Emily Miles, Chief Executive at the Food Standards Agency, said, “Our research shows that our food habits changed rapidly in lockdown and that food insecurity has become an issue for many people.”

The FSA found that foodbank use primarily reflected economic hardship. Some 25 percent reported it was because they had lost their job and 20 percent said it was because they were on furlough. And some 27 percent reported a delay or problems with benefits and 20 percent stated it was simply due to not having enough money. 

This is not some temporary phenomenon. The FSA said its independent Covid-19 expert advisory panel had identified food insecurity as a “prioritise and act” issue. This echoes the findings of the recently published National Food Strategy, which concluded that because of the post-lockdown recession many more families will struggle to feed themselves adequately.

Blame Tories not the poor for obesity and hunger
Blame Tories not the poor for obesity and hunger
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The FSA study warned the problem would worsen if incomes continued to shrink. “The people we spoke to face ongoing or increased food insecurity should disruption continue into the autumn and winter,” it said.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation think tank, says it speaks to the “brutal reality of being too poor to put a meal on the table”

“All scenarios point to a worsening of this bleak situation unless the government acts now,” she said.

A Hackney Foodbank volunteer told Socialist Worker, “We were included in the keyworker issue of Vogue for July. I was proud to see foodbanks recognised, but we really shouldn't have to exist. We don't want the public to see us as part of the mainstream.

“There is plenty more work to be done to change society and address the lack of support for those who don't have enough to afford the essentials.”


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