Research has revealed the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on young people, who are the most likely to have been furloughed, lost their jobs and to have experienced food insecurity. Surging use of food banks under Covid-19 has placed a spotlight on food insecurity in the UK, with Marcus Rashford’s lobbying of the government to secure food provision for schoolchildren just one example.
But very little is known about how food insecurity affects young adults. During the nationwide lockdown, while I was working at Herriot Watt University, I interviewed a diverse range of young people in Edinburgh and London, aged 18-26, to learn about their experiences both before and during the pandemic.
Underemployed and poorly paid
Food insecurity was not new to the young people I spoke to, who had invariably been underemployed in poorly paid, insecure jobs for several years. But the pandemic had severely aggravated this precarity in ways that expose the insecure nature of young people’s employment and its penalties.
Before the pandemic, Holly, 18, was working long hours, six days a week, in a commission-based sales job in London. She was employed on a four-hour contract per week but, apart from a small daily wage, her earnings came almost exclusively from door-to-door sales that she made outside her contracted hours. Unable to work in this way during lockdown, she had been furloughed to the value of her contract, causing a steep drop in income: