Coronavirus: One in four Northern Ireland adults ‘now at risk of hunger and malnutrition’

One in four adults across NI have struggled to access affordable food under lockdown and are now susceptible to hunger and malnutrition, a UK-wide survey has found.

By Philip Bradfield
Friday, 3rd July 2020, 12:35 am
Food parcels arriving at the Community Services Facility Unit based at The Ulster Hall in Belfast. To receive food call the helpline on 0800 587 4695 or email Covid19@belfastcity.gov.uk
Food parcels arriving at the Community Services Facility Unit based at The Ulster Hall in Belfast. To receive food call the helpline on 0800 587 4695 or email [email protected]

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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the food security of 25% of the population was determined in research from the charity Feeding Britain and Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab.

The research, which included people in NI, also found that one in four adults who look after children have eaten less so they can feed the children in their household.

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Researchers found that half of all adults have tried to cope during the pandemic by purchasing less expensive food which they would not ordinarily choose to buy.

Nearly one in three adults who are the least ‘food secure’, and who are looking after children, have also resorted more frequently to eating less so that their children can eat.

Kevin Higgins of Advice NI said: “I certainly see these figures as valid for Northern Ireland and this justifies the Covid measures put in place to support people during lockdown.”

His organisation, which gives benefits advice, has given extensive support to the vulnerable under lockdown, he said; their NI Covid-19 Community Helpline (0808-802-0020) has answered 18,000 calls since March 27, of which 69% were food related.

Mr Higgins also said that some 150,000 food boxes have been distributed across NI under lockdown and that Universal Credit claims in NI have risen from 70,000 to 134,000.

“Moving forward I think there needs to be a review of the social security system to ensure it is fit for purpose and provides an adequate income,” he added.

Recent improvements to Universal Credit need to be maintained beyond the Covid crisis, he said, and the independent advice sector must be supported to assist people as we emerge from lockdown.

Prof Greta Defeyter, director of Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab, said: “These findings present an appalling picture of the high percentage of adults experiencing food insecurity in the UK. 

“If we, as a country, are to stand a chance of getting to grips with this problem, we need the prime minister to oversee and implement with urgency a national food strategy which enhances the supply, affordability, and accessibility of nutritious food to everyone in our country.”

This must minimise the need to deploy the many coping strategies, such as the use of food banks, which were identified through the survey, she added.

Andrew Forsey, director of Feeding Britain, said: “This survey reveals the lengths to which millions of people in our country are going to keep themselves and their families fed during the pandemic.” 

The charity is recommending the creation of a jobs programme to prevent long-term unemployment and a review of deductions from Universal Credit and the suspension of the related two-child limit.

It is also calling for year-round ‘seamless’ school lunches and breakfasts for children, and tougher employment protections for people in low-paid and precarious work.

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