Written evidence submitted by the Local Government Association (COV0091)
1 May 2020
1. About the Local Government Association
1.1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.
1.2. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems
2.1 Councils are working intensively to support people with a range of vulnerabilities to continue to access food during the pandemic. This includes assisting with the delivery of the national system of doorstep food deliveries to those people who are extremely clinically vulnerable to Covid-19 and need to be shielded, and to people outside this group who are unable to access food or have issues affording it.
2.2 Much of this support has been developed at pace and in a number of instances in response to a swiftly changing national response to the pandemic, which has posed a number of challenges to local government.
2.3 There are number of ways in which Government can enable councils to support people both within and outside the shielded group:
2.3.1 Resolution of data issues relating to the shielded group.
2.3.2 Bringing together all the relevant information and guidance about support to the shielded group in one place, with a focus on practical examples of how councils and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) fit within national and private sector mechanisms.
2.3.3 Recognition that locally led systems of support for the non-shielded group have already developed, and that this support should continue to be managed locally.
2.3.4 Continued assistance from MHCLG in joining-up engagement across Whitehall in relation to supporting vulnerable groups.
Access to food
2.3.5 Clear mechanisms (and available capacity) for councils to be able to refer people in the shielded group and vulnerable people outside it to supermarkets and other retailers.
2.3.6 Clear and consistent national messaging about:
18.104.22.168 the priority need is for more vulnerable people to access supermarket delivery slots, rather than those who may usually access the service; and
22.214.171.124 supermarket deliveries are now being consistently managed so there is food available and customers are able to comply with social distancing so that people are encouraged to free up delivery slots.
2.3.7 Councils and local voluntary and community sector partners had already put in place a range of local welfare provision, and the LGA has long highlighted the need for this provision to be properly recognised and properly resourced.
2.3.8 Bolstering local support systems by enabling the VCS to tap into the GoodSam volunteer capacity.
2.3.9 Clear and consistent messaging about the role of the local VCS and ability for people to volunteer locally, as well as nationally.
3. Have the measures announced by the Government to mitigate the disruptions to the food supply chain caused by the pandemic been proportionate, effective and timely?
3.1. Government moved quickly to try to ensure that the most medically vulnerable ‘shielded’ group were given priority within a nationally organised food-parcel scheme. This group was also seen as a priority group for NHS volunteers to support. Challenges with the data on the shielded group, and developing / shifting definitions of ‘vulnerability’, have meant that for some people accessing food continues to present challenges.
3.2. Some groups who would normally access food through catered provision have had to move to other channels. This has been most clearly exemplified by Free School Meals. The Department for Education moved quickly in implement a voucher scheme. Although there have been some challenges with bringing that offer to scale via the chosen provider, and a need to expand the range of participating retailers, the move has been welcomed as a sensible alternative to school-based provision.
3.3. There have been more significant challenges with other community-based provision such as lunch clubs and food banks. This is particularly the case where these have catered for people who struggle to afford food. Food banks have had to contend with both a reduction in donations and volunteers and an increase in demand. This has been further compounded by a continued debate about how food support for those facing financial hardship should be provided.
3.4. It is hoped the continuing discussions between the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the major food charities may resolve some of these challenges. There have also been welcome efforts to re-purpose food from the restaurant industry to support catered provision via organisations like FareShare in key services such as prisons, shelters and care homes.
3.5. Councils remain concerned about their ability to meet the needs of some groups for whom they have new or ambiguous responsibilities, particularly where these have been exacerbated by the requirements of lockdown. This is particularly the case for rough sleepers and people who currently have ‘no recourse to public funds’. Councils have been provided with funding to provide emergency accommodation on public health grounds, but the new requirement to provide food to these groups has not been funded, and the extent of councils’ longer term responsibilities towards these groups remains unclear.
3.6. Developing clear processes for procurement, establishing the right routes for supply and managing demand are always going to prove more challenging when funding and responsibilities are still being agreed.
4. Are the Government and food industry doing enough to support people to access sufficient healthy food; and are any groups not having their needs met? If not, what further steps should the Government and food industry take?
4.1. The measures introduced by the government to reduce the number of infections, and the therefore the numbers falling seriously ill, have had a significant impact on the ability of a number of groups to access healthy food. These include:
4.1.1. those the government have advised need to be shielded because they are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19;
4.1.2. those outside the shielded group but who are at greater risk because of pre-existing health conditions and need to implement enhanced social distancing;
4.1.3. those who are temporarily unable to leave their home because they have to self-isolate; and
4.1.4. those who are unable to afford food either because they were in a position of food insecurity already or have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
4.2. For many of those outside the last group, while the pandemic has impacted on their ability to access healthy food on the same basis they did before the lockdown measures were implemented, they have found other ways to get the food they want. This has included relying on friends, family or neighbours to buy or collect food on their behalf. However for those without a social network to support them or they are in food insecurity, accessing food has proved more problematic, and councils have had a key role in helping them access healthy food.
Support for the shielded group unable to access food
4.3. Once government advised the approximately 1.9 million people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 that they needed to stay at home and avoid face to face contact until the end of June, a process was developed to ensure that those who were unable to obtain food in other ways received essential groceries. This has included the establishment of a national doorstop delivery system, where those shielded individuals who have registered that they need support receive a weekly food parcel.
4.4. As putting the system in place to deliver to all who have asked for food parcels has taken a number of weeks, councils have where necessary provided emergency food drops to tide people over until they receive their weekly parcel. The food for these emergency deliveries has either been provided by councils themselves or from the one-off bulk delivery of food (equivalent to 10,000 parcels) that was made available to those councils that wished to have it at the start of the shielding process.
4.5. In addition to providing emergency supplies of food councils have used the data on the shielded group provided by the NHS alongside their own records to identify those in the shielded group who might be the most vulnerable so they can contact them and offer support. Councils have also provided social care and/or contact to those people in the shielded group who have registered such a need assistance through the national call centre or website.
4.6. The support to the shielded group continues to evolve at pace, and the LGA and councils are in dialogue with relevant government departments, in particular the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and Defra, about how the system could improve.
4.7. Although there were issues with the food provided through the initial on-off bulk delivery of food drops to councils, we are not aware of concerns being raised about the content of the food deliveries now in place to individual households although there were initial concerns that the contents did not represent a healthy diet or address specific dietary requirements. As the process for supporting the shielded group has developed councils have raised a number of issues they believed needed resolution. In relation to food deliveries these have included:
4.7.1. A process for those who originally received a food delivery to cancel the deliveries where they have subsequently been able to access food through a supermarket delivery or other means.
4.7.2. Clarity on how individuals can transition on and off the deliveries list over a period of time.
4.7.3. Details on how those people receiving food parcels are prioritised for supermarket deliveries so they have access to a wider range of food, where they are able to pay for it.
4.7.4. Instances where shielded individuals received a delivery, but were then missed off the delivery list the following week, and instances where the shielded individual was not the only person in the household, and it was not clear how the other members of the household would be supported.
Some of these points have been addressed by guidance from Government, such as that issued by MHCLG on 24 April for councils and Local Resilience Forums along with a set of frequently asked questions.
4.8. Councils have also raised concerns about the data they are being provided with in relation to the shielded cohort. Four sets of data are being provided:
4.8.1. a one-off provision of the full list of people in the shielded group in each councils’ area;
4.8.2. daily updates of the details of those who have registered online or by phone, whether or not they want to receive a service;
4.8.3. regular updates on shielded individuals the national arrangements have not been able to contact, or it is not clear what their support needs are, or they did not complete the registration process; and
4.8.4. food deliveries feedback data from food suppliers.
4.9. Instances of inconsistent and duplicated data along with other issues of delays in providing updates and poor quality means councils are spending a significant time cleansing data and trying to identify means of contacting individuals which could be avoided via improvements. Work is being undertaken in government to resolve the reported problems which include:
4.9.1. Delays in accessing the list or issues with access (for example having been sent the wrong passwords).
4.9.2. Matching the data as that provided by government does not necessarily match the data coming from GPs and clinical commissioning groups and vis-a-versa.
4.9.3. Duplication of the data or changes to it which require daily data quality exercises to remove duplicates or monitor change.
4.9.4. Flows of information outside the daily delivery of data to councils such as names of people in the shielded group being sent through to local authority call centres.
4.9.5. The footprints covered by the data which are based on GP surgeries and not local authority footprints, which can lead to the inclusion of names from neighbouring authorities or cross border issues.
4.9.6. Lack of unique identifiers related to individuals in some instances, such as the absence of the person’s NHS number which requires councils to conduct manual searches of the data to identify individuals.
4.9.7. Lack of information being relayed to councils in relation to food deliveries including who has requested a food package, who needs help carrying their box into the house and when a delivery has been made.
4.9.8. Understandable restrictions on how the data can be used are in place but are also affecting the ability of principal authorities to work more effectively with parish, town and community councils who are organising support to vulnerable people in their communities, and have a particularly important role in more isolated communities.
4.9.9. A lack of means by which the data can be updated after local authorities have been in contact with shielded individuals, where provision of a contact number or email for the Government’s Shielded Team would enable this to happen.
4.9.10. Delays in updating the full list of people in the shielded group provided to councils to include individuals subsequently identified by GPs and reviews of NHS data.
4.10. The LGA has worked with Government on additional guidance and FAQs for councils on how the support to the shielded group works. However these have become rapidly out of date in some instances, leaving councils without one place in which they can find all the relevant information they need.
Support to other groups unable to access food
4.11. Councils are not only supporting people in the shielded group. They are already assisting vulnerable people outside the shielded group, who are struggling to access food, despite being able to afford it, due to the need to self-isolate or because they are at greater risk because of pre-existing health conditions and need to implement enhanced social distancing. Examples of some the work councils are doing is set out in Appendix 1.
4.12. As councils have already developed their own mechanisms, often working with the VCS and local communities to scale up existing arrangements, it is the view of the LGA and councils that any further support to vulnerable people outside the shielded group should be locally-led and managed, with Government supporting councils in their endeavours.
4.13. The LGA and councils are working with different parts of Government, and retailers, to try to bring thinking and proposals together to support vulnerable people outside the shielded group access food. As part of these discussions, councils have highlighted at an early stage the need to help vulnerable people who can afford to pay, to access supermarket deliveries. However this has been made more difficult by an overall increase in demand for supermarket deliveries and click and collect services, with the result that the future focus for support to vulnerable people outside the shielded group who can afford to pay, is likely to be on a range of measures including some access to supermarket deliveries, the role local convenience stores can play, and the use of volunteers to shop for people in this group and then deliver the shopping.
4.14. Following feedback from councils, the LGA has identified a number of areas where central government councils will need assistance to ensure vulnerable people in the community are supported. These include:
4.14.1. The flexibility to build on existing proven local arrangements, rather than extend the new national initiatives to include additional tasks.
4.14.2. Continued assistance from MHCLG in joining-up engagement across Whitehall in relation to supporting vulnerable groups.
4.14.3. On-going help from Defra to ensure councils have the engagement they need with food retailers, such as the main supermarkets.
4.14.4. Clear and consistent national messaging that:
126.96.36.199. the priority need is for more vulnerable people to access supermarket delivery slots, rather than those who may usually access the service; and
188.8.131.52. supermarket deliveries are now being consistently managed so there is food available and customers are able to comply with social distancing so that people are encouraged to free up delivery slots.
4.15. The additional financial support made available to councils in the announcements on 17 and 18 April will obviously assist in funding councils’ work to support vulnerable people outside the shielded group, but it is unclear at this stage the scale of demand councils face or the duration this support will have to remain in place, and therefore whether the funding councils have received will be enough.
4.16. Looking ahead, while access to supermarket delivery and click and collect services will be an important element of the offer to the non-shielded vulnerable, councils will still need access to volunteers who can shop and then deliver groceries to those people who need it.
4.17. In councils’ view there is a need for measures to improve alignment, coordination and interoperability between national and local volunteering schemes to support shielded and non-shielded group. The LGA has consistently highlighted how councils will work with the local VCS in supporting local vulnerable people, and that work at a national level must complement this, but there is a concern that the profile of some national initiatives may have stopped people from volunteering locally.
4.18. Of the national initiatives developed by Government, the GoodSam app has been extremely successful in attracting resources and is the source of considerable volunteer capacity. There is a need to ensure this can be accessed by all local partners, including the VCS as well as councils, being able to refer into this resource.
4.19. Alongside the use of individual volunteers, there is equally a need to consider the resilience and capacity of the sector at organisational level, with a need for additional funding to support VCS infrastructure and coordinating functions to ensure effective deployment of local volunteers.
Support to those in food insecurity
4.20. A significant minority of households were struggling to access sufficient healthy food prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The emerging evidence from food charities and councils is that the requirements of the lockdown and social distancing have compounded these existing challenges. The lockdown has placed significant pressures on food banks, it has closed lunch clubs and community-based food projects and made it harder for people on low incomes to shop around and take advantage of discounts and offers. A greater reliance on long-life and ambient food is impacting on the nutritional quality of the food that these poorer households may be able to access.
4.21. It is also inevitable, despite the welcome and significant range of financial support that government has put in place, that some households will struggle more than others through loss of employment, being newly dependent on the benefits system and staying at home. This is particularly likely during the initial period while people wait for benefits and state-funded support to come through.
4.22. In the long term many households are also likely to face straitened circumstances for some time after the initial effects of the pandemic are over. There were already uncomfortable questions to be asked over the persistent need for food banks and food charity in many of our communities before the current crisis. Councils and local voluntary and community sector partners had already put in place a range of local welfare provision, and the LGA has long highlighted the need for this provision to be properly recognised and properly resourced.
4.23. The recent update to the Marmot review[i] highlighted that health equity was continuing to grow between wealthy and deprived areas. It is vital that we have a joined-up cross-sector approach to ensuring that people from all backgrounds are able to access healthy, affordable food. This will be more important than ever as we work together to rebuild local economies. This should be an opportunity to consider the incidence of financial hardship and food poverty in our communities, and to ensure that our most precarious households are given the full support that they need to recover from the crisis.
4.24. At present it remains unclear whether the funding made available to councils in the announcements on 17 and 18 April will be enough to reimbursed them and their local partners for the additional financial hardship and food poverty support that they are providing to low income households affected by the lockdown and social distancing measures. Without sufficient funding and co-ordinated support many low-income households will inevitably struggle to access good quality food both now and in the wake of the crisis.
Appendix A - case studies
The LGA is placing more examples on its website.[ii] Below are some further just some of the practice examples shared by councils.
The City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council have established a comprehensive support service for vulnerable people in the city requiring assistance, including with accessing food. This includes identifying those in need of support through the council’s customer service call centre and community hubs. This has been able to support those for example who have been unable to get a delivery or click and collect slot from local supermarkets or leave the house through personal shopping arrangements with payment made through the council’s customer service call centre,
East Suffolk Council launched a new community fund of more than £70,000 in the first week of the crisis in response to the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable residents. The Council initially allocated £1,000 from each of the 54 ward councillors' 2020/21 Enabling Communities Budgets towards an East Suffolk COVID-19 Community Fund and the majority of councillors agreed to contribute a further £1,000 each. In addition, each of the eight Community Partnership areas in the district have allocated £2,500 to the fund to tackle social isolation.
The council has also provided £5,000 to each of the three biggest food banks in the District and is working with Suffolk partners, including to Community Foundation, to co-ordinate funding to support VCSE organisations.
The fund, which now totals over £120,000, will enable community groups and organisations to mobilise support for those residents who are most at need as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The fund is managed by the East Suffolk Council Funding and Communities teams. It provides financial support for new and existing groups who are helping vulnerable people to stay safe and to relieve the financial hardship of residents during these uncertain times. Funding can be used in many ways, including the support of pop-up food banks, buying essential goods or services for individuals, supporting telephone befriending services or providing funding for fuel to enable Good Neighbour Scheme volunteers to deliver medicines across the district.
Grants of between £50 and £2,500 are available for projects, which support local residents who are struggling due to the virus. Larger requests for funding will be considered under exceptional circumstances.
More than 30 projects have been funded so far, including Access Community Trust for a free hot food service for 75 residents each day in Lowestoft, Framlingham Town Council/Hour Community to support 10 ‘cocoons’ in the Town each of which has a coordinator and a number of volunteers to support the residents in that cocoon, the Aldeburgh, IP17, Leiston and Melton Good Neighbour Schemes to expand their work to support local people and a number of pro-active Town and Parish Councils in the area to set up a response including, Bungay, Bromeswell, Corton, Earl Soham, Levington & Stratton Hall, Southwold/Reydon and Woodbridge.
The additional funding will enable additional groups to access funding to support their local response and existing groups to apply for a second phase of funding depending on how long their services are needed – what is clear is that there is a really dedicated and pro-active voluntary and community sector in the District who are helping thousands of people every week.
South Somerset food parcels
The SSDC Wellbeing Hub has been set up to supply food parcels and other supplies to South Somerset residents in most urgent need. The Hub is already up and running and more than 30 deliveries have already been made to residents who are shielding or who fit the criteria where they are recognised as vulnerable.
Many SSDC staff were redeployed to work around the clock to get the Wellbeing Hub in place. The project has been led by managers from the Commercial Services team who have worked alongside a wide range of staff from across the Council and partners including Yeovil Town Council, supermarkets (including Tesco and Co-op) and many other suppliers who have offered help and donations of which we are so grateful. Staff from our closed venues at Westlands and the Ninesprings Café have used our catering kitchens to split down catering packs of pasta and rice to make more manageable packet sizes to go in the food boxes.
Thurrock Community Support/Response
Thurrock Coronavirus Community Action launched on Friday 27 March. Thurrock Council in partnership with Stronger Together, Thurrock CVS and other local organisations are working together to safely coordinate support to residents in need and to help ensure voluntary work is carried out in a safe and co-ordinated way across the borough. The 1,395 residents helped to date by the new Stronger Together TCCA partnership consisted of all three categories as identified by government.
The TCCA helpline and online form launched on 1 April to support residents in Thurrock who do not fall into the shielding category but are vulnerable due to self-isolation, have worsening mental or physical health issues or do not have friends, family or local support in place at this time. TCCA have had a total of 438 volunteers of which 235 are verified, including councillors. There are also two anchor organisations and 15 local distributors.
Thurrock Council staff from TCCA are on hand to answer questions, help vulnerable residents get access to food, medicines and social contact, with a helpline open Monday to Sunday between 9am and 5pm. The TCCA team will aim to make contact within 48 hours to discuss how to provide support. We will assess the requests for support, prioritise them and match them with the support or volunteers available. As well as general advice, we’ve been able to link people up with volunteers to help with shopping, medicine collection/deliveries and befriending
TCCA has identified smaller businesses such as restaurants and shops that are able to offer goods and support at a local ward level including taking telephone orders and delivering to vulnerable residents which is within the government’s business closure guidelines. This option is being signposted to residents where appropriate when they contact us through the online form or helpline. We are looking for support from other local businesses who can provide essentials such as toilet roll, toiletries or nappies and food to support the local food banks. We would also like to understand if they have the facilities to deliver locally i.e. milkmen, restaurants/ pubs offering takeaway services, corners shops etc. and could support the partnership this way.