Food insecurity rose during the pandemic driven by a reduction in income and reduced access to affordable food, according to a review by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and think tank Demos.
An estimated 14% of households, or four million people – including 2.3 million children, experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in the six months following the start of the March 2020 lockdown, compared to 11.5% before the pandemic, research by the Food Foundation charity found.
A poll for the FSA found that 40% of people had helped others by shopping for food for someone who was self-isolating during the pandemic, with 23% having received this kind of support for themselves.
Just under two thirds (63%) agreed that “it is the Government’s responsibility to make sure no-one goes hungry”.
The report also reveals a shift in people’s diets during Covid-19, with 32% of those surveyed reporting eating more healthy main meals, but 33% eating more unhealthy snacks.
Half (51%) of people have cooked at home more throughout the pandemic, in particular those who live in London (60%), people on higher incomes and those in households of four or more people (59%) have cooked at home more during the pandemic.
Of those who cooked more during the pandemic, 82% expect this change to continue.
FSA chief executive Emily Miles said: “It’s clear from this research that our experiences of food have diverged widely during the pandemic.
“While some have seen eating habits improve, and potentially made lifelong improvements to their diets, others have struggled to feed themselves and their families.
“All of us in government must now reflect on what this means for the future of food and public health.”
Rose Lasko-Skinner, senior researcher at Demos and co-author of the report, said: “Our research highlights three key shifts in people’s eating and consumption habits during the pandemic.
“The first is an unprecedented rise in food insecurity caused by new physical and financial barriers to buying food as a result of the pandemic. The second is a potential improvement in eating habits for those who have had more free time and spent more time at home.
“And the final shift is a new consumer consciousness, with people having wasted less food and bought and shopped more locally.”