How Covid-19 has exposed inequalities in the UK food system transcript

DR: In this episode will be discussing the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inequalities in the UK food system. 

In March, when the UK went into lockdown, the food supply chain was severely disrupted. Not only did consumers begin stockpiling and donating less food to food banks, but the international food chain was hampered by export restrictions. These, among other factors, disproportionately affected low income households and exposed deep inequalities in the UK food system.

Here to talk about this we have Bob Doherty:

BD: I'm Bob Doherty and I'm an academic based at the University of York in the York Management School and my research area is very much looking at prosocial market mechanisms within the food system. So, I research social enterprises and mechanisms that reduce poverty and inequality in the food system.

DR: And Madeleine Power:

MP: Hi, I'm Maddy Power. I'm a Research Fellow at the University of York in the Department of Health Sciences and I look at poverty and food poverty and the use of food banks and I often use participatory processes like coproduction to do so.

DR: In early April 2020, along with co-authors Katie Pybus and Kate Picket, Bob and Madeleine co-authored the peer-reviewed article How COVID-19 has exposed inequalities in the UK food system: The case of UK food and poverty published in the Emerald Open Research Gateway Sustainable Food Systems. In it, they outline how the current pandemic and associated lockdown have revealed fundamental issues surrounding food insecurity, particularly as it affects low income households. 

DR: So, in your article, you explain that even before the pandemic and lockdown, inequalities in the access to food in the UK already existed due to austerity policies beginning in 2010. To begin with, can you explain prior to the pandemic the implications of these policies on the lives of lower-income individuals and families and the role that food banks played in this context?

MP: So, since 2010, we have seen a very sharp rise in the use of food banks. Before 2010 we didn't really have food banks in the UK They weren’t very well-known, and we saw a very sharp increase in number of people using food banks and this seems to be quite closely tied to a series of policies that were rolled out since 2010 around welfare. So, things like the Benefit Cap, particularly now the five-week wait for universal credit, so even before the pandemic actually food security was increasing sharply in the UK and food banks were a key response to this increasing food insecurity.

BD: And, also, if you look at from 2018 to 2019, the Trussell Trust actually gave out 1.6 million food parcels. Now if you compare that to 2010 that's a 26 fold increase in the number of emergency food parcels that were given out by the Trussell Trust, and bearing in mind the Trussell Trust doesn't represent the whole of the food banking system. That really does illustrate exactly what Maddy was saying about the sharp increase in the need and the demand for food aid in the United Kingdom.

DR: Right, so the Trussell Fund, that's an NGO and that has over 1200 food bank centres, is that correct? And then you also have a system with independent food banks?

BD: Yes, so you’ve got the Trussell Trust which is a charity and then you also have FareShare which is another charity as well, those two very large organizations working in the food aid provision and then you have a raft of about 800 independent food banks open today in the United Kingdom.

DR: So, when the pandemic began and the lockdown began in March, we've now been in it for several months now, how did these food banks respond to it?

BD: Well, I think what was interesting was if you cast your mind back to March, what you had in the United Kingdom, which didn't necessarily happen in all other European countries, you had this manifestation of panic buying and stockpiling by individual households which meant you had these media images and you would have seen them if you walked into supermarkets, lots of empty shelves, and I even, from my own experience, remember going into a supermarket and somebody’s shopping trolley was just completely full, piled up with just breakfast cereals. So, people were obviously hoarding and stockpiling and there was no, at the time, there was quarters at the supermarkets hadn’t set a limit on the amount of each individual item people could purchase and that's a real problem, particularly for independent foodbanks who rely on donations within supermarkets. So people, when they're in the supermarket putting, you know, food that they may deem, you know, not necessarily they need or they want to donate it, they put it in the basket in the supermarket and that will go to the local food banks. Secondly, some food banks, they'll receive donations directly from supporters and they'll use that donation money to go into a supermarket and buy bulk. So, they might buy, you know, eighty-packets of pasta or large numbers of tin tomatoes or whatever, things that make up a food bank parcel. But if the shelves are empty, particularly what you did find was that those were some of the food items that people were stockpiling. That creates a real problem in supply for that a segment of the food banking system and you could see it. It's that combined with a lack of volunteers because people were worried and volunteers in the food banking sector, not exclusively elderly, but are dominated by elderly people, you had a real breakdown in the independent food banking system which kind of demonstrates its fragility really in the light of the pandemic.

DR: Yes, you know looking at the food banks you had mentioned, Bob, that people were stockpiling and so have now that it's been several months that we've gotten used to the pandemic and the initial crisis is over, have people stopped stockpiling? Has the food supply chain evened out?

BD: Yeah, I think what you find and if you talk to supermarket retailers, there are still some stock outs, particularly of, you know, some goods, but what you're finding is that you don't have the kind of image of these empty shelves anymore and what some supermarkets have done is they've just reduced the number of stock lines in store and so they, you know, certain products will occupy a bigger space just to illustrate or to kind of, you know, provide the image of the, you know, demonstrate to consumers and the public that the, you know, the shelves are not empty anymore, but you will notice that still certain items, because of increases in demand really, are still in shorter supply than others. You are still getting stock outs of a certain product type and you can see that in the data because what you found is with people being at home more is that people's purchasing is changed, so you've got an increase in demand of certain items and certain companies, certain products that even had record sales in the months of April and May because people in lockdown were more home cooking, more food consumed in the home.

DR: Right, so that was another question I wanted to ask is that with the closure of restaurants how has that affected the food supply chain and food donations to charitable organizations?

BD: I'm sure Maddy can build on that, but what you find is obviously the food service sector, hospitality, completely fell off the cliff and what happened was a real quick kind of move by different food providers to try and adapt to that situation. So, what we've seen is quite an emergence of direct supply from supplies of food from farmers or from those wholesalers and distributors that used to supply food service actually starting to supply direct to consumer, direct to customer, but also starting to develop new relationships with retailers, but also you've seen the emergence of some quite interesting alliances between companies like Nando's and Leon restaurants and charities in places like London who have been working together in partnership to actually get food to vulnerable groups. So you have seen some real social innovation in the food sector, particularly from food service to try and, you know, circumvent the kind of closure of that sector and also what happened in food retail was the there's an increased demand for staff and so you did have some redeployment of staff from workers from the hospitality sector into food retail and a co-op in Manchester was one of the kind of initial movers in that space because they had a big recruitment drive to recruit staff from hospitality into the retail stores to become very, very busy.

DR: So, the food was successfully diverted from restaurants into being able to be consumed but then also into these food banks as well?

BD: I wouldn't say everybody was successful. I mean, if you look at dairy farmers, they've really struggled and milk’s been a real problem because, obviously, a lot of milk is consumed in food service, if you think of the number of coffee bars, so actually a lot of dairy farmers have had to reduce their yields, actually cut back on inputs to actually reduce their yields because they didn't have a market for their liquid milk; different if you were supplying maybe a cheese manufacturer or a bottle manufacturer, but if you were providing liquid milk for food service, it was kind of a real problem in that particular area in terms of the food system.

DR: So Maddy, has there been an uptick in donations to food banks, and are people having more access to food, these lower-income families?

MP: To some extent although the food banks are still relying on these more centralized systems, so FareShare played a really big role in the distribution of food from food suppliers to food banks, but there's been lots and lots of teething issues around this. Partly, FareShare actually weren’t really set up in all parts of the UK and certainly parts of Wales didn't have any bases and couldn't supply the food banks and there was also a set of costs for food banks, food banks had to pay FareShare to actually get food. So even though the theory was perhaps a good one of a centralized system of food supply making up whole sellers who might not now have a market with food banks who have increased demand, on the ground, it was very difficult and there was lots of food banks who didn't get the food they needed or what food that was past the sell by date and mouldy or they were required to pay for the food that they were being given. They didn't have any money to do that.

DR: So, where are we now a few months into this pandemic in terms of food banks, donations and people being able to access food and food banks.

MP: So, it's now much better than it was. I mean, I think with everything and not down those initial payment of such a shock and surprise and no one was ready for it and since food banks they weren’t ready for a tool and that the initial month or so, two months was chaotic and people didn’t have the food they needed it and the supply systems weren’t set up. Now they are set up and whether it's a kind of more centralized level with FareShare distributing food to food banks or whether a lot of it is within local authorities who coordinated food provision either through a food bank or through their hubs. So, it's now much more established. The data isn't clear yet but we're likely to see an increase in food donations directly to food banks as they would have had before the crisis. And they’ve also seen a significant uptick in financial donations since the start of Covid so that can now be used to buy food in supermarkets as they would have done. So, there’s now a steadying of it, but they’re expecting increased demand even further as the furlough payments end, as the unemployment increases, so whether or not they'll be able to keep up with that demand is unclear.

DR: When you're doing your research and pulling your data, where are you getting your data from and how are you able to share it with others?

BD: I think the data on the food supply chains, if I could start there, looking at, you know, the percentage of food that is imported and then breaking it down by product type that requires the knowledge of trade statistics, a need to analyse those trade statistics and that data is read it readily available in the office of national statistics. There might be a little bit of a time lag with it but, you can certainly access it and number crunch it which is what we do at the University of York and in the I Know Food Program which me and Maddy are a part of and then also in terms of other data, like market data, so we were able to track the trends in terms of how people's consumer habits were changing. You can do that by looking at the Kantar Worldpanel data which shows you how, you know, people's consumption habits changed over the pandemic and so really what we did, what Maddy will talk about, access to food banking data as well, was we tend to use a mixed-methods approach. You gather the data from different sources, and you pull that together to make an article that illuminates some of the vulnerabilities and the fragilities that they are going on. Remember that this was a point in time so this was something that we were having to collect data quickly in the weeks where we were writing the article and I think the other benefit of an article of this type as well is the fact that we were very pleased that it was Open Access because it meant that not only academics could access it, but also practitioners could access the article as well and what we did find was we received emails from a number of food bank leaders who said thank you very much. We don't normally get access to academic articles. We were really pleased and it's helped us to inform our strategy in the next few months. So, for us that was really, really pleasing. And Maddy will have her own insights on that as well.

DR: So for you Maddy, working with food banks having the article open access, did it give access to people that you wouldn't have expected or to practitioners, people out there in the field?

MP: Yes, absolutely and that was something we were very keen on when writing the article. It was accessible and available to a broad sector and so as Bob says we got emails from some food banks which I think he and I were quite pleased about saying it made them rethink about their own practices in the light of the arguments that we made because for food banks, a lot of them are just working kind of hand to mouth, really. They’re just dealing with the day to day that I get reflect on that. So, I'm pleased I think, I don’t want to speak for Bob, but we were pleased the article had a role in encouraging that reflection.

DR: If this is protracted and there is a second wave, how will that continue to affect food banks, food donations and the supply chain?

MP: Well on the supply chain side, I think Bob would be much better placed than me, but I would imagine in the way that has happened with food banks is that they’ll actually now be able to adapt better. So, certainly with foodbanks, if we were to see a lockdown again, there will be a greater ability to adapt to that new circumstance because they’ve adapted in the past. The problem now is that so many people are experiencing food insecurity that demand is very high and is likely to increase so it's just continuing to meet that very high demand when they're not really set up. Food banks are only set up to be a temporary service and now they are really becoming part of the welfare state and they’re not really able to do that.  

DR: Right, so looking at the long term, have we permanently affected the way food bank structures work because of the pandemic?

MP: Possibly, and I think there's some concern within the food bank sector that could be the case so the sort of broader framework for this. I suppose Bob and I are academics so we do look at things in kind of more theoretical way and the long term implications of all of these events, is that lots of food banks and lots of those working in relation to food banks were quite resistant to food banks becoming permanent and becoming part of the infrastructure of how welfare is given in the UK and how support is given and what we've probably seen is that in the need for them to establish themselves to meet the sharply increased demand over this period, they have set up links with centralized supply chains, they've set up links with local authority in the welfare system at a local level which means that they are becoming further institutionalized so their further becoming part of the system. It's very difficult to undo that system and I suppose what has really happened is that further entrenched which might be good in some respects that people need that support but actually before this point there was huge concern that that happen and I think that lots of people would not like that to be the case.

DR: There seems to be a very strong moral dimension to this of the responsibility of the government versus the private sector and food banks seem to play a precarious role between the public and the private partnership. Do you think this is viable in the long run?

MP: I would say it's not, just from the perspective that we know from a wealth of research that a new minority of people who experience food insecurity, so experienced difficulties around accessing food because of money, access food banks. So, it’s very problematic if we are entrenching food banks as the supposed solution to food poverty. They are not going to solve it. We need to actually be looking at other solutions if we really want to address growing food insecurity.

DR: Right, so how has Covid-19 specifically exposed inequalities in the UK food system?

DR: I think that going back to what Maddy was saying, the reason why food banks aren’t a permanent solution is because a lot of people actually have a stigma about going to food banks. They're embarrassed to go to food banks and they work out lots of mechanisms with networks, with families, to actually… and adults will go without food themselves to feed their children. So, in a way, the number of food banks and the number of parcels that food banks provide is only one indicator. It’s not the whole story. There's a hidden story there of food insecurity and food poverty in the UK I think what Covid-19 did was just exposed the fragility even further and obviously that was accentuated by initial stockpiling and food banks not being able to get the normal supply. Also, there is… to get a food bank parcel there's a referral system so you have to go through a referral system and because if you look ahead, if we see a rise in unemployment which is forecasted and predicted, will the referral system also be able to keep up with the demand of people wanting to access a voucher to use the food bank? And I think the important element of this is that food banks in the main, and Maddy might say this is changing, but in the main, they offer a food parcel that is mainly made up processed food. It's made up of tin goods, it’s made up of dried produce and there's very little fresh produce in that food parcel and I think that's a problem for the health of the nation as well because if we, you know, making that inequality even worse by actually providing a diet that's undernutritious, that adds to people's issues in terms of a lower immune system which has obviously proven to be, you know, a difficulty if you have the virus then that's just creating a two-tier food system and I'm sure if you speak to policy-makers and you speak to industry, the last thing we need in the United Kingdom is a two-tier food system, a food system for the poor and a food system for the rich and I think that, for me, that is the real concern is that you just reinforce those inequalities even further.

DR: Right. You also mentioned in your article that people from different ethnic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, they're not having access either to the types of foods they would normally eat. Is there anything you can say more about that?

MP: Yes, so that really came out of some work that we did in Bradford, now a few years ago where we were looking at Bradford, a city in the north of England and it’s very ethnically diverse where there is a very large Pakistani Muslim population and we did some work in the food banks in Bradford about how they were given the food and who was receiving the food and we found that they did not have many Pakistani Muslim people going to the food banks even though in that population there is quite high deprivation and the food they were giving out wasn't culturally appropriate. It would be a very standard parcel of food and it wouldn't be appropriate to people's needs in terms of maybe halal food and so that is increasingly a concern as Covid goes on because we are seeing that the only populations are experiencing a very high burden of Covid and of all of the inequality that comes with being economically associated with Covid. So, there is a threat, there is a danger that they’ll be excluded from the services that they might need to access because food banks can’t provide and don’t provide culturally appropriate food.

DR: So, is there a way to reach them and to get them the food that they need?

MP: Food banks really should be thinking more carefully and some are, absolutely, many are about the cultural needs of the people using the food banks. Lots of food banks are provided by Christian churches who can be white and there can be perhaps in the midst of everything else going on, that doesn't seem to be a concern. And because maybe they don’t have many ethnical minority people using their food banks, they think it isn’t a concern. So, there is a role for food banks to play in making themselves more inclusive and there is probably also the acknowledgement that maybe some communities might not want to go to the food banks. So, it’s about how we can make that food available to them if they don’t want to come to the site of the food bank itself.  

DR: Well clearly the country is going through an economic crisis because of the lockdown and the pandemic. Is there more of an acceptance now of possibly people going to food banks because we know that there is this crisis that more people are having to deal with this situation?  

MP: I would say there's probably more acceptance of people getting food charity in some form. So, food banks are one example of people getting food charity. They might also get a food parcel from a local charity that works with families, so that are run from a community centre and are now distributing food parcels. And lots of schools are distributing food parcels rather than giving food vouchers. So, there will probably be a normalisation of food charity and accessing food charity in some form. I think that food banks themselves, and going to food banks, still has a stigma, a strong stigma attached to it. And it’s possible that stigma might have been enhanced because actually now if someone goes to a food bank, it’s a very transactional experience. It's not the kind of holistic experience. They don’t get care. They don’t get conversation. They don’t get advice because people can’t do that within the confines of social distancing, so it becomes very transactional and because of that, it might become even more stigmatising than it used to be.

DR: Bob, on April 30th of 2020, you and professor Fiona Smith gave oral testimony to the House of Commons International Trade Committee on the UK food system as it responded to Covid-19. Can you tell us about the purpose of the testimony and what you discussed?

BD: Yeah, that's a very good question. It was the International Trade Select Committee who were having an inquiry on the impact of Covid-19 on the UK food system. So, it was looking very much at the problem from an international perspective and we were asked to provide oral evidence along with two other industry representatives. One was in right from the food and drinks federation and the representative from the British retail consortium and we all agreed actually on certain key points, one that during the pandemic, and one of the reasons why we were quickly able to kind of refill those shelves that were empty in the early stages was that – I don't know whether you were aware, but actually – in the UK forty-six percent of our food is imported from other and nation-states and thirty percent of the food actually comes from the European Union and that's a mixture of fresh produce. So, we import a large amount of our fruits and vegetables from the European Union, particularly from the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain plus we import quite a lot of our ambient goods, so tin tomatoes, pasta, baby milk, all sorts of different goods from the European Union. Now, what the single market provides is a very frictionless movement of goods and one of the things that really held up in the Covid-19 pandemic and still is holding up today is the, actually, the just in time supply chains from the European Union and that frictionless movement of goods really work very, very well and what I was trying to emphasize in that Trade Committee was that's one of the reasons why we were able to maintain supply in the grocery retail sector in the Covid-19 pandemic and it was because of the speed and the fact that goods come very quickly from Calais to Dover every day and what supermarkets have got used to over the past fifteen years is very much the just in time supply chains that make them more efficient and so they’ll order today before twelve noon from their suppliers of fresh produce or ambient goods in Europe and they'll get the delivery tomorrow. So it’s called day one for day two and so but if you then start to introduce delays, so one of the concerns that people do you have is if we were to enter a second wave of the pandemic at the same time as we have Brexit, it's very, very important that the UK has a good trade deal that maintains that frictionless movement of goods across borders from Spain, from Italy, from the Netherlands to maintain our supplies because if you think of fresh produce, you can't really stockpile those items. They’re perishable. That's the interesting thing about the food system if you compare it to something like car components or electrical components, you know, the produce is perishable and so we've got to understand that when we're entering into these big geopolitical changes within the United Kingdom.

DR: So, the just-in-time supply chain, has that recovered since the initial shock of the lockdown?

BD: Yes. I think in most cases it has recovered and it’s proven quite, quite resilient but it could have been different. So food has managed to keep going, to keep moving from the European Union to the United Kingdom and that's been a success really, but if you think of say fresh vegetables, for example, we get thirty-six percent of all fresh vegetables from the European Union. They mainly come from southern Spain, actually, Southern Spain had a very low incidence of Covid-19 outbreak break and it could have been different. So in those in those farms and in those packing plants for fresh vegetables, there was a very low number Covid-19 cases in Southern Spain, so, actually, you could argue that was a little bit of luck and fortune in some of our supply chains being continuing to supply the UK Also, because there was some labour loss, so people did get sick, so there was a lower number of lorry drivers available, what the UK government did, it did introduce some flexibility into the system. It took away the cap on the number of miles travelled and also the number of hours that lorry drivers were restricted in terms of driving. So, it meant that with a combination of measures and the free movement of goods across the European Union for certain supply chains, they were able to continue effectively.

DR: So, looking forward at the way that the UK consumes food, gets it from abroad, is there a push to make the UK more independent in its own food production?

BD: It's a debate. People are obviously, you know, you would have heard in the media discussions about self-sufficiency, reshoring the food supply, but the UK has always existed within a global food system even if you think back to the late 1980s we were still importing 34/35 percent of our food. I’ll take one good example. Bananas, for example, is Britain's favourite fruit and obviously you can't grow that in the United Kingdom. It’s a crop that's a tropical crop. It grows in West Africa and the Caribbean and Central America and so it's more nuanced than just thinking of self-sufficiency. However, there are certain crops particularly British seasonal vegetables and fruit that people could argue could be grown in that, more could be grown in the United Kingdom, but that also relies on other factors. It's more complex than just, you know, to say you can turn the tap on because it needs investment, it needs land, it needs labour. Also, you know, we have an elderly, aging farming population. We have a lower number of people, young people, going into farming, so it's not straight forward this maybe some free market economists would think. There's a there's a lot of complexity and infrastructure and questions of land use that would have to be considered before you can make those accurate calculations to whether the UK could be most self-sufficient.

DR: In recommendations that you might make to the UK government about what they could do about food insecurity and the food supply chain, what would those be?

BD: In terms of food supply chains my strong recommendation is people who are negotiating the trade deal with the European Union have a full understanding of the complexity and the nuances of the food system and the food supply chain. It's not the same as electrical components or car parts. It's perishable. We source food from, you know, thousands of different producers. Fourteen to fifteen percent of our food also comes from less developed countries and so in any trade deal, in any trade negotiations that needs to be understood. We really need to be able to pinpoint exactly where our food is coming from by doing good trade analysis and we need to consider that when we're, when we're negotiating trade deals because, you know, our food system really relies on the frictionless movement of goods across borders to keep the consumer in the UK satisfied across the twelve month period.

DR: Right, and then looking at inequality, there's sort of a trickle-down effect, right? So, we have food coming in from out of the country and then we have it getting into food banks. So Maddy, could you say something more about that, about food banks and the way that they may operate in terms of this this larger food chain?

MP: In terms of food banks, I suppose one thing that's really important to bear in mind with them is that they are so closely tied to poverty more generally. So, it's good if they’ve got the food supply that they need that's coming from various sources and that might now be increasingly centralized, but it also might be them buying food in supermarkets. As long as that food is there in supermarkets, they will be able to buy that food. They don’t really need a diversity of food because the food parcels that they give out to people is so limited. It’s a very restricted parcel of food that only has dry food in it so, in some ways, in terms of any time limit or kind of temporal implications of when that food is coming into the supermarket, that wouldn't really have any bearing for them. Going forward with food banks, I just think there’s a great concern from both individual food banks on the ground as well as the government’s organizations so that be the Trussell Trust and the independent food aid network about increased demand and people not getting the support that they need from the welfare state. So, there are lots of joint calls out for the various organizations for the government to make certain amends to the welfare state. So that things like the Benefit Cap or reducing the five-week wait for universal credit which means that people have the income they need so that they themselves can go to the supermarket and buy the food that Bob is talking about.

DR: Right, so that would change the question of stigma attached to food banks so that it would give more liberty to the individual to be able to go to a grocery store and pick out their own food.

MP: Yeah, exactly.

BD: Yeah, I think what Maddy was saying there was the notion of cash first is best, particularly when the system broke down like it did in at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic was that to reduce that stigma and for people not to have to wait and find out the mechanisms of providing food for the families that actually what the Scottish government did was they had a cash first approach so they put more money into people's Universal Credit and that was very, very welcome. It meant people could do exactly what you were referring to there, Daniel, is to actually go into the supermarket themselves and feel empowered to buy the food they want to and I think those are some lessons what we really, really have to be careful about is actually making food banking the norm in the United Kingdom. We’re an advanced capitalist nation. To think that, you know, a good percentage of our population actually relies on food charity is something worth reflecting upon for everybody. Do we really want a society that relies on a two tier food system?

DR: Maddy, is there anything you'd like to add to that?

MP: Yeah, just to second everything that Bob says that I think in some ways, if you look at what's happened over the past few months from a policy perspective, it's quite interesting to focus on the difference between the devolved nations. So, Scotland took quite a different approach to England, so while there were these UK level changes to the welfare system like the extra 20 pounds a week in Universal Credit, what Scotland did is it puts much more money initially into local hardship funds and the idea would be that before someone went to a food bank, they would go to a local hardship fund that might be administered by a local authority and then get cash rather than have to go get food and if that system is set up, it means that the problems that we see in the food system don’t need to affect somebody whose food insecurity is only because of low income and poverty.

DR: So, specifically in the UK with the response to Covid-19, what have they gotten right, and what have they gotten wrong in the last few months?

MP: The furlough scheme clearly prevented the destitution or at least unemployment and poverty of millions and millions of people and so the furlough scheme for the people who are self-employed, as well as employees, has been really crucial. They made some changes to the welfare state to Universal Credit quite early on which are important like increasing the value of Universal Credit and then there were additional elements like mortgage holidays. So that would be really important. I would say, for me, what they’ve got wrong is that they didn’t go the whole hog, really. They kept the five-week wait for Universal Credit. So, when you first sign on, you’ve got a wait of at least five weeks until you get your first payment and if you got no money coming into the household then you're very likely to have to go to a food bank. So they didn't change that. They also kept the Benefit Cap which means that if you're in slightly larger family your benefits will still be limited so you might not gain that extra 20 pounds a week in universal credit because you’re being hit by the Benefit Cap. So, there were some things they did really well, but they could have done more and they could have gone further.

DR: Bob, what do you think?

BD: Yeah, also to add to what Maddy said was a couple of other things which are kind of key. Also, there was obviously a big debate around free school meals during the summer holidays. Obviously, the government initially decided not to provide free school meals during the summer holiday. But then that needed the intervention of the football local Marcus Rashford who's... it’s interesting how footballers have become politically active during the past few months and it led to a government U-turn. It was the right decision in the end, but it was clear to most people that that would be the good thing, the moral thing to do in the initial decision making. I think the other thing about the food supply chain, DEFRA has worked very, very closely with the grocery industry and supermarkets and they did make some of these decisions which actually helped in terms of keeping, you know, supply chains going with taking some of the restrictions off the miles travelled in terms of logistics and also the number of hours that lorry drivers can drive just to keep food on the shelves. So, there were some good things, but obviously some areas for improvement.

DR: Well thank you so much for joining us today. I think we had a really good conversation, this covered a lot of territory.

MP: Yeah thank you.

BD: It's good thanks. 

DR: If you’re interested in learning more about Bob Doherty and Madeleine Power’s work on how Covid-19 has exposed inequalities in the UK food system, you can find a link to their Open Access article in the show notes.

Next week, Helen will be speaking with Associate Professor Johnny Jones of the Mississippi Valley State University about historically black universities in the United States.

Join us then and thank you for listening.