Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on tackling financial insecurity over winter

Guidance to local authorities to help tackle financial insecurity and support households with food and fuel over the winter

Who is at risk

While evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on overall prevalence of financial insecurity, the impacts are not felt equally by all groups in society.

Groups at increased risk of financial insecurity include:

  • younger people
  • disabled people
  • lone parents
  • minority ethnic households
  • people living in households with children
  • larger families
  • people living in households on low incomes
  • people living in the most deprived areas

These groups are more likely to experience difficulty affording food, fuel and other essentials. This may be due to recent changes in financial circumstances resulting from Coronavirus, such as loss of employment, or may be due to pre-existing pressures which have been compounded by Coronavirus.

It is estimated that around 75,000 people are most at risk due to income lost as a direct result of Covid-19 and that 630,000 people were in severe poverty prior to the pandemic, including around 160,000 children. Around 156,000 children and young people are estimated to be eligible for free school meals and 1 in 5 households with children report experiencing serious financial difficulty. Lower income households are more likely to have increased debts and more likely to have reduced their savings making it harder to manage financial pressures.
Many households are likely to experience additional costs associated with more time spent at home due to local COVID restrictions which will impact on fuel and other costs. Thought should be given to households with higher living costs, including those in rural areas or areas with fewer retail options. Many households are digitally excluded and may not have the skills, equipment, internet access or confidence to access financial support services.
Households that are worried about the adequacy of their budget may cut back or go without fuel, food or other essentials which can contribute to and exacerbate poor health and mental health. Focusing on income based approaches will provide households with greater choice and control.

An intersectional approach is essential. It is important to note that many of these groups overlap. For example, women, disabled people and those of many minority ethnicities are all more likely to be low earners; minority ethnic people are younger than the White population on average; and the vast majority of lone parents are women. Emerging evidence strongly suggests that COVID-19 is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities therefore it is vital that COVID-19 response, recovery and renewal effort takes account of overlapping disadvantage.

The table below summarises the issues likely to be faced by those with some protected characteristics and those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, and examples of support put in place by local authorities to reach these groups during the pandemic to date.


Possible needs of this group

Ways in which support has been tailored by local authorities to target this group

Those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage

Those living in low income households and those living in the most deprived areas were more likely to live in poverty prior to the pandemic. Evidence shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing socio-economic disadvantage, increasing the prevalence of food insecurity and fuel poverty.

  • provision of bank/cash payments
  • provision of supermarket vouchers
  • direct provision of meals, groceries and food packs.
  • fuel top-ups
  • funding and partnership working with community groups and third sector to support food projects that increase dignified food access
  • dedicated signposting and referral processes to financial support and advice, including to the welfare teams for a financial/benefit assessment
  • proactive signposting to sources support via leaflet drops and targeted telephone calls

Children & younger people

Households with children are more likely to be financially vulnerable, and are at increased risk of food insecurity, compared to households without children.


Younger people were already more likely to be financially vulnerable or in debt before the pandemic, and more likely to be experiencing difficulties affording food or fuel. Younger people were less likely to be in employment, and for those who were, this was less likely to be secure. Younger people are more likely to be working in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. 


Free school meal support that is provided through schools may not be accessible to Gypsy / Traveller children that are not regularly attending school but can be provided through trusted partners.


  • provision of Free School Meals during term time and school holidays, delivered through bank/cash payments, vouchers, and direct provision of meals and food packs
  • childcare hubs retained and redesigned to provide access to breakfast, lunch and supper, alongside childcare
  • dedicated referral processes to family support teams and sources of local support, where required
  • dedicated financial support for vulnerable families with children and looked after young people with food, fuel and transport costs
  • funding and partnership working with third sector organisations providing targeted support for families with children and younger people
  • provision of a range of baby products, including milk, nappies and wipes
  • provision of digital devices for younger people at risk of digital exclusion

Disabled people

Disabled people were already more likely to live in poverty and at an increased risk of experiencing difficulties affording food prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 has further exacerbated the financial vulnerability of disabled people, alongside introducing additional physical barriers resulting from reduced access unpaid care.  A requirement to collect food and other essentials in-person may present a barrier to disabled people experiencing food insecurity, and disabled people may have specific dietary requirements resulting from their health condition.

  • delivery of frozen and hot meals, groceries and food packs
  • dedicated referral processes to adult health and social care services
  • tailored food provision to meet health dietary requirements
  • support with wider households needs, including the collection of prescriptions and provision for devices for those experiencing digital exclusion
  • provision of information in Braille, BSL, Easy Read and Large Print
  • dedicated employability officers supporting adults with disabilities
  • provision of additional health and social care at home

Older people

Older people are less likely to be financially vulnerable and are at a lower risk of food insecurity compared to younger people, but there remains a proportion of older people concerned about affording food. Older people experiencing financial difficulties may face additional physical barriers to accessing essential supplies and services, especially those with limited support networks and digital literacy. A requirement to collect food and other essentials in-person may present a barrier to older people.

  • home delivery of frozen, chilled and hot meals.
  • volunteer shopping services.
  • provision of specific nutritional food items for those identified at risk of malnutrition.
  • support with wider households needs, including the collection of prescriptions and provision for devices for those experiencing digital exclusion.
  • befriending support, dedicated telephone advice and regular telephone contact.
  • dedicated referral processes to adult health and social care services, social work and mental health teams, where required.  
  • funding and partnership working with third sector organisations providing targeted support for older people.


Women are one of the groups on which the economic effects of the pandemic are falling disproportionately. COVID-19 is likely to have a disproportionate longer term impact on women in the labour market due to multiple factors such as women who are employed being less likely to be in secure employment, earn less on average than men and less likely to be eligible for sick pay. Women comprise the vast majority of lone parents who, before COVID-19, were much more likely to be in debt and/or financially vulnerable. Women are also more likely to report experiencing domestic abuse, which may further exacerbate financial insecurity, and present additional barriers to accessing support.

  • alongside food support, additional households items provided, including period products and toiletries.
  • provision of resources, support and referral for those experiencing domestic abuse, including assistance with relocation for those fleeing domestic abuse.  
  • dedicated support for pregnant women, including provision of additional food and other essentials (e.g. maternity and breast pads).
  • funding provided to third sector organisations providing dedicated support for women.


While in the population as a whole women are more likely to work in many shutdown sectors and are expected to face larger negative labour market outcomes longer term, early labour market evidence suggests that, so far, men have seen greater levels of inactivity, greater rates of furlough and reduction in hours worked[1], which has impacted on their employment income. In addition, across many minority ethnic groups, men are more likely to work in shut-down sectors than women.

  • signposting and referral to employability support.


Minority ethnic groups

Minority ethnic groups are more likely to be in poverty and less likely to be in employment, placing them at increased risk of experiencing financial insecurity. 

Gypsy/Travellers may face additional barriers as their accommodation may not be suitable for holding large supplies of food and many delivery companies are unwilling to deliver to campsites. Low insulation in trailers and amenity blocks may require a higher level of energy to heat.

  • tailored food provision to meet cultural dietary requirements
  • funding and partnership working with third sector organisations targeting minority ethnic groups
  • translation of resources into a range of languages and promotion of these resources via social media
  • dedicated support for Gypsy/Travellers, including the provision of health & wellbeing packs


Food insecurity may be increased by difficulties with access and cost of specific food requirements such as Halal foods and traditional celebration foods such as for Passover and Ramadan.

  • tailored food provision to meet religious dietary requirements
  • funding and partnership working with faith organisations

The Scottish Government has produced a paper, published on 17 September 2020, which reviews emerging evidence on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on equality across several key domains: health, economic, education, safety and security, social and wellbeing, housing, digital, and environmental. The paper aims to be a useful reference to help inform the various response, recovery and renewal work being undertaken.


[1] Men saw greater falls in employment over the year to July to September 2020 and greater rates of furlough take-up than women at the end of June 2020 (HMRC Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Statistics). While this might reflect sectoral patterns in the impact of the pandemic, with men more prevalent in some of the sectors with highest take up rates of furlough (e.g. construction where take-up rate was 73% at end of June 2020)[1], these disparities might be temporary.  The structural labour market barriers (e.g. a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities, low pay occupations and insecure work) faced by women are more likely to impact in the longer term (see for example - Scottish Government, Gender Pay Gap Action Plan, Analytical Annex, March, 2019). 

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