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Ineffective Free School Meal Replacements Compound ‘Tidal Wave’ of Coronavirus Food Poverty

Government scheme designed to stand in for free school meals doesn’t cover enough places to buy food

Food bank crates in East London, with charities seeing a huge uptick in food insecurity
Crates for distribution at an overloaded east London food bankee
Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 is both exacerbating and increasing food insecurity

As U.K. food banks face unprecedented uptake, one of the key measures designed to alleviate some of the pressure on their services isn’t working. A supermarket voucher scheme for children normally entitled to free school meals isn’t enabling those in need to buy food, because of the limitations on which supermarkets and food shops participate. Private contractor Edenred’s scheme entitles each child to £15 in vouchers per week, but their parents must choose from Aldi, McColl’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, and M&S when redeeming them, and sometimes it’s the schools, not the parents making the decision. This can artificially create, or broaden food deserts, by limiting the availability of food.

At the same time, food banks are experiencing sustained, cataclysmic waves of demand: the Trussell Trust provided 81 percent more emergency food parcels in the last two weeks of March than in the equivalent period of 2019 and describes the situation as a “tidal wave.” Coronavirus isn’t just increasing incidences of food poverty: it’s exacerbating extant inequality. [BBC]

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