Home Covid Food poverty among unpaid family carers continues to surge

Food poverty among unpaid family carers continues to surge

by Lisa Carr

Figures relating to Carers Trust’s spending on grants show unpaid carers are suddenly experiencing severe difficulties in being able to afford enough food because of the Coronavirus crisis.

In May and June alone Carers Trust provided small grants totalling £11,900 to 109 carers just so they could buy even the most basic food items for themselves and those they care for.

Until the lockdown, Carers Trust had never needed to provide grants to carers just so they had enough food to live on. Grants were made instead to help carers buy essential household items they couldn’t otherwise afford, like beds, fridges and washing machines.

Coronavirus has changed all that. The sudden and widespread demand among unpaid carers for grants just to buy food points to a shocking surge in food poverty among a group of people made especially vulnerable by the lockdown. Increased difficulty in accessing food is being experienced by all ages of carers. In a recent Carers Trust survey of young carers (aged 12-17) and young adult carers (aged 18-25), 11% of young carers and 20% of young adult carers said they had found it hard to access food since lockdown. One young adult carer, responding to the survey, pointed to the real difficulties being experienced by carers in accessing food for those they care for:

“…Shopping is now solely my responsibility as neither [of my] parents can go out and get little bits as and when they want. I’m spending much more time doing the shopping, what used to take an hour or so takes longer as we wipe everything down for safety.”

Escalating food poverty among unpaid family carers reflects wider food security problems within society as a whole. The House of Commons Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just published a report which finds the pandemic to have worsened food insecurity for millions of people. The same report finds that use of food banks has almost doubled since the lockdown.

But while shockingly high numbers of unpaid carers have been forced to access food banks, reports received by Carers Trust from its UK-wide network of local carer services point to even more vulnerable carers who have been unable to access food banks because of the pandemic. This has been due to the widespread explosion of demand on food banks as well as the need for unpaid family carers to shield at home with those they care for.

These unpaid carers shielding at home with those they care for will be made more vulnerable still by the UK government’s termination of its scheme at the end of July to deliver free weekly food parcels to those judged to be especially vulnerable.

Carers Trust’s CEO, Gareth Howells, said: 

“They may be hidden away behind the walls of their own home, but without unpaid family carers society would simply break down. They provide the sort of dedicated care their family members are no longer able to receive in the community because of our broken social care system. And because of Coronavirus, they are spending even more time caring, making it impossible for many to afford the food their families need.

“You’d think the government would be doing everything in its power to support unpaid family carers, given they were at breaking point before the pandemic and remain far more vulnerable to its effects than most. But instead the government refuses to raise Carer’s Allowance and is now withdrawing its free weekly food deliveries to the vulnerable which have proved a lifeline to so many carers. With so little support from the government for unpaid carers, it’s hardly surprising that we are being overwhelmed with requests for grants just so carers can put even the most basic food on the table.”

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