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Tackling food poverty: learning from London

Simon Shaw reflects on progress addressing food poverty in the capital and the lessons that can be shared more widely. Our collaborative work in London provides further evidence that committed individuals and organisations can make a real difference to the lives of local people by working together.

At Sustain we work with communities, third-sector organisations, local authorities and government, aiming to make sure everyone can eat well. We centre our work on both the affordability and availability of a healthy diet, as well as ensuring that people can access this diet in a dignified and socially acceptable way. Our work tackling food poverty is delivered primarily through our UK-wide Food Power programme, London Food Poverty Campaign and Right to Food project.

Last year I moved over from our London-focused to UK-wide food poverty work. I have been reflecting on the progress in the capital and the lessons that can be shared more widely. This blog focuses on good practice in London, but of course there are examples of good practice all over the UK. For me what’s important is what has helped local areas to take meaningful action to reduce food poverty and the difference this has made for local people.

A few months ago I was around the table with representatives from different departments from a London borough, the food bank and the voluntary sector. We had come to together to develop a food poverty action plan. When discussing the Government’s Healthy Start scheme, each person around the table admitted that they knew nothing or very little about the scheme. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this moment of frank honesty was, for me, a really positive step. It allowed us to understand our starting point and begin to come up with practical actions to address this shortfall.

‘Beyond the food bank’

We describe our London work as operating ‘beyond the food bank’. We want to focus minds on what councils, other statutory bodies and their partners can do to address the causes of food poverty, and reduce demand for emergency food aid. Indeed, emergency food aid providers have started to clearly express how they will struggle to meet the needsof all those affected by the currently flawed implementation of Universal Credit. We were inspired by existing examples of councils and communities who were taking action, which prompted questions about why only some areas were stepping up to address this issue.

Beyond the Food Bank report and online tool

Our London-focused Beyond the Food Bank report and online tool identifies the action London councils are taking to tackle food poverty in their area. We score councils on a number of measures, from health-focused interventions such as the Healthy Start and the Unicef Baby Friendly schemes to initiatives that address wider determinants, including the living wage and minimising council tax payments. These rankings are released in a report, which celebrates success and identifies where councils can take meaningful steps to improve their scores. It has also generated healthy competition between councils to improve their scores each year.

Good practice identified in this year’s report includes work in Havering to increase uptake of free school meals, Lewisham’s pilot of food provision during the summer holidays, Croydon’s development of a community food club, and the meals on wheels pilot in Camden.

Food poverty action plans

Our work in London has shown the value of multiple partners collaborating to set a shared strategic vision and working together to deliver a joint action plan to tackle food poverty.

Earlier this year I worked with five London boroughs to develop food poverty action plans. We had animated and honest discussions about the current local situation, and actions that boroughs and their partners could take, while balancing ambition and realism about what was deliverable in challenging times.

Developing these action plans taught me the value of:

  • celebrating and building on positive work to date
  • linking a discrete food poverty action plan to wider issues including health inequalities and anti-poverty strategies
  • ensuring that a steering group allows all those around the table to be honest about knowledge gaps or areas for improvement
  • inviting in external speakers to provide both information and motivation
  • publishing the action plans in an accessible and attractive way.

Local people and councils continue to face financial pressures. Our collaborative work in London provides further evidence that committed individuals and organisations can make a real difference to the lives of local people by working together.

This blog was first published on the Health Foundation website as part of their 'our food, our health' focus.

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Published 30 Jan 2018

Food Poverty: Over 5 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat. We’re working to change that through people-powered projects and campaigns that tackle the root causes of food poverty and ensure everyone has dignified access to healthy, affordable food.

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Simon coordinates Food Power, a four-year programme supporting food poverty alliances to tackle food poverty in their areas. The programme focuses on highlighting and encouraging sustainable responses to food poverty, particularly where they address the root causes of food poverty.

Simon Shaw
Head of Food Poverty Programme
Food Power


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