Government figures have revealed that lack of money forced millions of people to go hungry or rely on food banks during the first few weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, with families and young adults worst affected.
Households with children, people with health issues and people aged 16-24 were most likely to either to skip meals or use food charities to feed themselves or their family in April and May, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) data showed.
The FSA said this meant between 6.3 million and 7.7 million adults had reduced meal portion sizes or missed meals because of lack of money, and between 2.7 million and 3.7 million adults sought charity food or used a food bank.
These are the first official figures showing the scale of the problem.
"The Covid-19 crisis has made it much harder to access food,” said Dr Rachel Loopstra, lecturer in nutrition at King’s College London.
It is understood there was “push back” over the FSA’s findings from ministers when they were presented to the government’s vulnerabilities task force – but the FSA was adamant they should be published.
The first set of published results show nearly one in six people reported being food insecure in May – meaning they went without meals or cut down meal sizes, a proportion that rose to just under a quarter of families with children, and a third of 16-24 year olds.
Nearly one in five (19%) in five adults with a physical or mental health issue had been food insecure in May, the survey found. Older people aged 55-75 were least likely to struggle to put meals of the table – just 4% skipped meals in May.
Emma Revie, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, which reported an 89% rise in food bank use in April, said: “It is shocking that 7% of the population of Northern Ireland, Wales and England have been forced to use a food bank and charities during the pandemic.”