As many as 4 million adults and children in this country are at risk of going hungry, and despite London being one of the richest cities in the world, thousands of people in the capital experience food poverty.
Most of those living in poverty are in employment, a consequence of reduced wages and the proliferation of exploitative zero-hours contracts. Changes to the benefit system, including an increased use of sanctions, delays in processing and low benefit levels, are fundamental causes of growing poverty. Rising costs for food along with difficulty simply accessing affordable and nutritious food create additional challenges for the poorest in our communities.
The number of people visiting foodbanks in London increased by 394% between 2011 and 2013. Foodbanks are a crisis response to the immediate needs of people who are hungry, but they are not a solution to food poverty in the long-term. Experience elsewhere, including the USA and Canada, clearly shows that when foodbanks become too well established they legitimise charity as a response to food poverty and undermine fundamental rights enshrined in our welfare system.
Publicly-funded nutrition programmes such as Healthy Start vouchers, free school meals and meals on wheels must become more effective in keeping the most vulnerable in our communities out of food poverty. These programmes, which are often the main source of nutritious food for children and older people in poverty, must be safeguarded and extended to reach all eligible participants.
Improving these safety nets, however, cannot on their own compensate for the negative impacts on diet related to unemployment and low minimum wage standards. We want London boroughs to adopt the London Living Wage to ensure work is a pathway out of poverty. We also believe that local authorities have a role in improving access to healthy, affordable and culturally-appropriate food.
Although we are focusing on local authority responsibility for reducing food poverty, there is a lot of excellent work by the community and voluntary sector in London to pick up where others have failed to provide.
To find out more about what’s going on in your local area, sign up to London Food Link.
Food Poverty: Over 8 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat. Sustain is working with communities, third-sector organisations, local authorities and government, aiming to make sure everyone can eat well.
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