The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on nutrition

Lead Research Organisation: Institute for Fiscal Studies
Department Name: IFS Research Team

Abstract

A major challenge facing policymaking during the COVID-19 crisis is ensuring all households have access to a nutritious diet. The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have provided supermarkets with a list of 1.5 million vulnerable people in England; this is being used to determine eligibility for grocery deliveries. However, there are press stories that families are struggling to put adequate food on the table. And in the devolved nations there are delays in supermarkets obtaining information on who the vulnerable are.

Many households are under significant financial pressure, some low-income families have lost access to free school meals, and interrupted supply chains and hoarding by some consumers are leading to significant upward pressure on food prices.

We will provide evidence on whether vulnerable people - e.g. the elderly, those on low incomes, and those with young children - are having difficulties accessing essentials and maintaining a healthy diet. We will use real-time longitudinal data on a large representative sample (over 30,000 households) to provide a systematic analysis of how different people's food spending is changing over the crisis relative to pre-crisis spending patterns. We will show how prices have changed and how the crisis is impacting the number of calories different people buy, how they obtain these calories (e.g. food out, takeaways or home cooked), the balance across different types of foods, and the overall quality of people's diets.

Our analysis will provide timely, invaluable information to policymakers tasked with ensuring a food supply chain that functions for all.