Local action to tackle food insecurity: summary of activities, trends and learning

This report summarises the activities delivered by local authorities using flexible funding streams on financial insecurity over October 2020 – March 2021, and highlights trends and learning to enhance future policy and practice.


  1. How people were reached: proactive outreach and whole needs assessment
    All local authorities continued to manage local helplines linked to the National Assistance Helplines through which people can access a range of services, including emergency income, food, fuel, and other wellbeing supports. Most integrated money and employability advice in to call scripts and some asked about the whole needs of all members of the household so as to provide wraparound support.
    Most local authorities undertook some proactive outreach to households known to be at greater risk of financial hardship, including those eligible for free school meals or in receipt of council tax reduction due to low income, as well as through council and social housing providers, and other frontline partners. Many used existing data to proactively award hardship grants, for example some authorities extended Pandemic Support Payments to low income early years, others used School Clothing Grant data to expand eligibility, and some processed an additional payment to those in receipt of council tax reduction.
  2. Nature of emergency support: shift from food to cash
    Most local authorities shifted from heavily food and fuel based responses in the first 6 months of the pandemic to direct financial transfers and vouchers. Many local authorities put in place discretionary hardship schemes to support groups ineligible for mainstream support or in need of immediate and direct assistance. Some local authorities put in place temporary preventative hardship schemes, for example one off payment to those waiting for Universal Credit payments. The Flexible Food Fund schemes in place in two local authority areas provided multiple payments with wraparound money and employability advice to build financial resilience. 
    The majority of local authorities administered free school meal support during school holidays and remote learning as a direct payment, and many reported a significant increase in uptake during those periods.
    The most recent figures suggest that demand for food aid from community and third sector organisations has plateaued, albeit at a much higher level than prior to the pandemic. Some local authorities have expressed concern around dependency on food aid, and the challenge of bringing new providers in to income boosting pathways and transitional activities away from food aid.
  3. Multi-agency partnership
    All local authorities worked closely with other sectors and services, in particular community and third sector organisations, though the shape this took looked different in each area. The vast majority reported closer working would be a key feature of their recovery and renewal plans.
    Most local authorities maintained regular information exchange with local groups to understand pressures and problem solve, for example providing groups with free or discounted space and transportation to store, prepare and distribute food, and redeploying council staff to support community activities.
    Many sought to strengthen the referral links between key income-boosting and wellbeing services, but noted the challenge of bringing newly established food aid providers in to this.
    Some put in place more formal joint programmes, for example public sector procurement of food for community responses. One council has recently published a joint plan alongside the Health Board, and community food network that identifies short, medium and long term actions to be taken across a number of food system topics - seeking to tackle poverty alongside achieving wider policy objectives
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