Covid-19’s ‘shocking’ impact on people in need of food banks

Published: 14th September 2020

The crisis induced by the Coronavirus is causing a shocking increase in the number of people that are likely to need to use food banks, according to analysis published today by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) for the Trussell Trust.

Levels of need are projected to rise throughout 2020 and reach 1,325,00 parcels of food needed in the last quarter of the year - representing a 153% increase on the previous year. Given that Q4 2019 was the busiest ever quarter previously recorded before this crisis, this would represent a truly shocking estimate that would result in an extra 800,000 emergency food parcels, a substantial excess demand over the numbers we would have experienced without Covid-19.

The report shows that the most vulnerable are the unemployed and self-employed workers: out of the 278,487 additional food parcels demanded from the Trussell Trust in 2020Q2, 202,065 were from self-employed people and their children. 

With unemployment likely to rise in 2020Q4, the worst impact on unemployed people is still to come, said Professor Arnab Bhattacharjee of Heriot-Watt University and a NIESR Fellow, and Elena Lisauskaite, a NIESR Economist. In companion work, NIESR finds that families with children and the youth are the hardest hit, as well as sections of society and the economy with existing disadvantages.

Results show that in the opening quarter of the crisis (Q2 2020) just 14% of the additional adults needing support from food banks were estimated from this modelling to be because of unemployment. This increases throughout the rest of 2020 to 48% in Q3 and 90% in Q4. At the beginning of 2021, 87% of the additional adults using food banks are expected to be unemployed. In the first two quarters of the crisis (Q2 and Q3 2020) unemployment was kept relatively low as the JRS kept people formally employed. As this is withdrawn the impact on unemployment and thus levels of need for food banks is expected to be profound.

The projections are obtained by taking estimates from the NIESR’s NiGEM (National Institute Global Econometric Model, NIESR 2018) model from the August 2020 Review (NIESR 2020) and comparing these against the non-COVID19 counterfactual based on projections from February 2020.

The authors argue that the current UK Government’s measures are useful, but they offset only a small proportion of the adverse impacts. Beyond the Furlough scheme and assistance to small businesses, and beyond the recent changes to Universal Credit, the government must also continue to provide enhanced welfare support to the vulnerable.

Covid-19 has had devasting effects upon the poorest sections of society,” said Prof Bhattacharjee. “The distributional impacts are highly asymmetric, with poorer families, most affected industrial sectors and low-paid employees suffering greatly. Sustained mitigation policies against these adverse impacts are urgent.”

Prof Adrian Pabst, NIESR Deputy Director said: “Policy relevant research about the distributional impact of policy and economic shocks is a major area of focus at NIESR. Our work on destitution and food poverty, partly in association with the Trussell Trust, highlights the urgent need to support the weaker sections of UK society. Covid-19 was never the great leveller. It has accelerated and amplified existing disparities, which are a key task for public policy.”

ENDS

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Notes for editors:

The full paper, Projection of demand for Trussell Trust food banks due to the Covid-19 crisis: Quarterly at the UK (national) level, NIESR Policy Paper No. 21, can be accessed here.

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