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Sunday, 16 June 2024

Learn lessons of COVID-19 food provision before the next emergency, urges British Red Cross

ACCESS to food in emergencies: learning from COVID-19, a new report from British Red Cross calls for changes to food provision during emergencies, following lessons learnt during COVID-19.

The charity, which has made over 50,000 food deliveries during the outbreak, is calling for Government to consider a review of the Civil Contingencies Act to make sure food and other humanitarian assistance such as shelter and medical help is included in planning for future emergencies.

Norman McKinley, British Red Cross executive director of UK operations said:

“We’ve witnessed an immense effort by councils and charities during this pandemic to get emergency food parcels to people in need.

“We’ve learnt a lot, both about what works and where the gaps are. We need to have an honest conversation about what we want to happen in both the next phases of this emergency and future crises, and what infrastructure is needed to make that shift.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, from practical insights such as translating information and lifting heavy food deliveries from doorsteps to tackling longer-term causes of food insecurity and considering reviewing the Civil Contingencies Act.

Currently, no single agency has a specific statutory duty to provide food in an emergency.

The Red Cross is calling for food, and humanitarian assistance more broadly, to be considered to be included in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

The charity, which highlighted the need for a review in 2019’s People Power in Emergencies report, hopes updating the Act will more clearly outline responsibilities and provide a more consistent approach, giving local authorities, charities and voluntary groups a clear framework in future crises.

The report also highlights the need to reconsider who may be at risk in an emergency.

Lockdown, shielding and the economic impact of coronavirus means people not previously identified as being vulnerable have found themselves in a precarious state.

The Red Cross has developed a Vulnerability Index to identify areas of the UK where people are more likely to face inequalities in health, wellbeing and economic hardship.

McKinley said:

“Life under lockdown has shown us not only how many people are already living with hardship, including food poverty, but how quickly many more may reach that stage when normal life is disrupted.

“We’re used to thinking of some people as being ‘one pay packet away from losing their home’ – we need to consider how close any of us are to one break in our chain of support meaning we can’t get hold of food in an emergency.”

To help reach those who are struggling to cope, British Red Cross opened a coronavirus support line.

The service provides emotional support and practical help such as food or medicine deliveries.

Since April 2, the phoneline has received over 5,000 calls.

Just over one third [35.3 percent] of callers say they have only one day’s worth of food left in the house, and in some cases have not eaten for several days.

The Red Cross helps link callers to local services, prioritising urgent cases.

McKinley said:

“Despite everyone’s hard work, we’re still seeing people falling through the gaps, even now months into the pandemic.

“We’ve had calls from people who have literally no food left in the house. Some have suddenly lost work or recently come out of hospital. One young family had a packet of porridge in the cupboard and nothing else.

“Even as lockdown eases, many of the issues people are facing will remain. As well as preparing for future emergencies, we need to be ready for the next stages of the current situation, such as local lockdowns, and individual isolation due to test and trace.

“By taking practical steps now we can stop people falling through the gaps. The Government considering a reviewing the Civil Contingencies Act is the action that will help set these wheels in motion.”

Recommendations in the Red Cross Access to food in emergencies: learning from COVID-19 report include:

  • Identify those most at risk so that support can be targeted and reach those most in need
  • Ensure food is suitable and meets people’s needs as far as is practical
  • Make the provision of accessible, nutritious food a statutory requirement in emergency response
  • Consider a review of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and corresponding guidance
  • Utilise the strength and insight of the voluntary and community sector to help to tackle food insecurity in local areas
  • Put in measures to tackle the longer-term causes of food insecurity, to help prevent people from reaching crisis point in the future


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