Fabians urge Government action on food poverty

30 October 2015

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THE Government is “abandoning responsibility” for those living in poverty in the UK, a new report from an independent commission has said.

The report, Hungry for Change, published on Wednesday by the centre-left think tank the Fabian Society, concludes that the Government does not have “any strategy” for tackling hunger in the country, and has “outsourced” the provision of access to affordable food to charities, businesses, and individuals.

The research, conducted by the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, with input from those with direct experience of food poverty, has taken a year to complete. The result is a 14-point plan that outlines how the Government could create a better food system for those on low incomes.

This includes a “pilot tax” on sugary drinks, and a wider review of taxes on unhealthy foodstuffs. The Commission is also calling for a review of advertising laws to prevent children from being “bombarded” by unhealthy promotions, particularly from fast-food chains, which have greater reach and budgets than health campaigns.

The report criticises government initiatives, such as Change 4 Life, for focusing on the “individual’s own responsibility to eat well”, while ignoring the “environments” and social context in which these decisions are made.

“Government exercises designed to change the behaviour of individuals are always going to struggle to compete against the large marketing budgets of the biggest food brands,” the report says. “Because food is the most flexible part of the household budget, it becomes the most likely to be squeezed.”

Research carried out for Hungry for Change suggests that, “calorie for calorie”, healthier foods are more expensive than unhealthy food, and so the struggle to afford other living costs in many households results in the prioritising of calories over nutrients.

An anonymous member of the Commission’s panel of experts who have experienced life on the breadline, said: “I always look at the [calorie] value of something, how much you get for your pound. How much it is going to fill you up.”

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One member of the Commission, the former dinner lady who inspired Jamie Oliver’s campaign on school meals, Jeanette Orrey, said that, despite the campaigns for healthy eating, “too many [families] are still left behind. . . We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious and affordable food.”

In the chapter “The Dilemma: Sustainability and affordability”, the report addresses the environmental impact of cheap, processed foods — and the associated long-term health risks, the threat of climate change to food supplies, and the 15 million tonnes of food wasted annually in the UK — half from households (7.2 million tonnes) and the remainder from manufacturing, retail, and transport.

The Commission is urging the Government to find a “new focus” to improve the situation “rather than keeping prices artificially low at the expense of the environment, public health, and working conditions in the food supply chain”.

The findings come after the Prime Minister’s promise last month to launch “an all-out assault on poverty”, and his wish, expressed before the General Election in May, to ensure that no one in the UK had “to rely on foodbanks”.

Geoff Tansey, who chaired the Commission, said that, although Mr Cameron’s comments were “admirable”, the Prime Minister had “no means” of achieving his goal and “no plan” to reduce foodbanks by reducing the need.

“The Commission has even found that the Government has no count of the number of people who currently lack secure access to nutritious, affordable food,” he said.

That the Government should work towards the elimination of foodbanks by 2020 is one of four key points for co-ordination in addressing the crisis, the report recommends.

It suggests that there should be a cross-departmental minister, who would be responsible for ending in-security over household food, as well as an increase in benefits to counter inflation that particularly affects low-income families. “The disjointed ‘big society’ approach to household food insecurity has not worked,” the report says.

The report is free to download at: http://foodandpoverty.org.uk/publication-hungry-for-change 

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