Last month we wrote on a report published by the London Assembly which chronicled the rise of food poverty across the city. The report showed that foodbanks have become the clearest manifestation of the growing food crisis in London and that the elderly and children were most at risk. Here, the report’s author Fiona Twycross, a Labour assembly member, writes a guest post for us on how we can stop food poverty in London.
The growth of food poverty in London is a disgrace – here’s how we stop it
Food is the most basic of human requirements. Yet, in London – one of the wealthiest cities on Earth – a growing number of Londoners are unable to access sufficient amounts of healthy food for themselves and their families.
In 2013, our aim should be nothing less than to make London a Zero Hunger City. With political will, there are a number of steps we can take to making this vision reality.
Firstly, the Mayor needs to show leadership. There needs to be a new London Food Strategy, aimed at reducing the causes of food poverty – whether due to incomes below the London Living Wage or the lack of healthy and affordable local food outlets – and to help ensure best practices become the norm across the capital.
But while the Mayor needs to show leadership in the fight against food poverty, new Health and Wellbeing Boards in each London borough need to take centre stage. This means having a proper ‘food poverty action plan’ and having someone working to coordinate the multiple organisations, like foodbanks, that are responding to food poverty.
Thirdly, schools are key to solving the problem. They need to make sure that every child who is eligible for a free school meal gets a free school meal. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that no child goes hungry at school or leaves education unable to cook. Ultimately, however, as pilot studies show, without universal free school meals child hunger in the UK will never be eradicated – this does not just leave a child hungry, it seriously impacts on their health and educational achievement; it means that a child’s potential is left unfulfilled.
Elderly falling through the welfare safety net
More also needs to be done to ensure older people stop falling through the holes in our welfare safety net. During my recent investigation into food poverty for the London Assembly Health and Environment Committee I heard that a high proportion of people over the age of 65 admitted to hospital in Lewisham and Southwark were already suffering from malnutrition.
Food poverty in one of the world’s wealthiest cities is a disgrace, the fact that there is enough food to go round but that it doesn’t always reach those that need it makes it all the more scandalous. Fare Share, one of the UK’s leading food charities, estimates that around three million tonnes of food – much of which is fit for eating – is wasted every year by the food industry.
Too much food waste from supermarkets
There is considerable resistance to addressing food waste at the corporate level. Waste by supermarkets and food brands is driven largely by the interplay between consumer expectations and the providers need to attract customers. Whether it is through the supposed need for manufacturers to always produce perfect looking food or the supermarket’s need to over-order supplies so as to ensure shoppers always get the product they want, whenever they want, food waste is engrained in the make-up of food markets. Beyond the direct waste by supermarkets and manufacturers, over-cautious best before dates and multi-purchase promotions contribute to the considerable additional waste at a household level.
To eradicate this, we need at least two things to happen.
1. Better forecasting by supermarkets so that food supplies can be more efficiently managed against demand.
2. Greater social corporate responsibility from supermarkets and other food producers.
It should be clear that at a time when food poverty is rising and threatens to engulf many more households as the current economic situation continues, the food industry has a moral responsibility to put people first in addition to considering the environmental issues of overproduction. In recent years the amount of food donated by the supermarkets to charities like Food Cycle and Fair Share – charities that ensure food that would otherwise go to waste ends up feeding those who would otherwise go hungry – has increased. Supermarkets and food producers usually know in advance that a large proportion of their food will be wasted. They need to do even more to ensure that all of their consumable excess food – and more – ends up in the hands of charities able to get it to those who need it, rather than sending it landfill. This is not a long-term solution to the issues faced by people living in extreme poverty in the UK but it is a sensible short-term solution.
Rising food poverty in London is a disgrace. Yet, the solutions to eradicating the problem are within our grasp should we find the political will to do so.
If we do, I truly believe that we can turn London into a Zero Hunger City.
Link to the London Assembly Report: http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor-assembly/london-assembly/publications/a-zero-hunger-city-tackling-food-poverty-in-london