Hungry for Change

Hungry for ChangeAs part of our work to tackle food poverty, Church Action on Poverty has been involved in the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty. In this guest blog, Commission Chair Geoff Tansey introduces the Commission’s recommendations.

Making the connections between immediate hunger and poverty and the broader issues of health, sustainability and fair working conditions was a key challenge for the Commission over the past year. We are a volunteer, independent non-party political group hosted by the Fabian Society, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and informed by an expert panel of people living in poverty in Salford, who were recruited by Church Action on Poverty.

We focused on food and poverty rather than ‘food poverty’ because that tends to direct thinking to the immediate needs of people in acute crisis, often focused on use of food banks. In fact, the links between food and poverty are far wider and deeper than being able to afford to eat. They require us to address the need for healthy and sustainable diets, decent working terms and conditions for those working to feed us from field to fork, and sustainable food production systems – all in ways that don’t harm the poorest. We found:

  • Parents skip meals to make sure their children get fed.
  • People squeeze the food budget because it’s the most flexible part of the household budget.
  • People have to prioritise calories over nutrients.
  • Food banks are just the tip of the iceberg, and often a means of last resort for people living in a continuing state of household food insecurity.

We believe five principles should underlie any action to address the issue:

  • Everyone in the UK should have secure access to nutritious, sustainable food they can afford, and nobody should live in a state of household food insecurity.
  • Food banks and other forms of charitable food provision should become unnecessary by 2020.
  • Decent work is the best way of achieving sustainable food security for most households, but the social security system also has an important role to play for many, both in and out of work.
  • The links between low income and diet-related ill health should be broken.
  • People on low incomes should be protected from price rises and other negative effects of addressing the long-term environmental, health and workforce challenges of the food system.

Nationally, we want the Prime Minister to create a senior minister responsible for eliminating household food insecurity, which should be a central criterion for evaluating Universal Credit. The minister would oversee how government respects, protects and fulfils the right to food, monitored by a civil society alliance. We must measure household food insecurity so we know how successful we are in eliminating it. And government, regulators and businesses must work together to end the Poverty Premium (where the poorest pay most for key living costs including food, utilities, housing, household appliances, and transport). More locally, local authorities need to develop food access plans with their local communities.

A range of actions are needed on income. We must ensure that the DWP stops benefit sanctions, delays and errors causing food insecurity. Social security benefits for working-age people need to be uprated in a way that keeps pace with the actual cost of living. To bring everybody up to a minimum socially acceptable level of income, we must: proceed with raising the ‘national living wage’ to 60 per cent of median wages; actively build coverage of the voluntary Living Wage; and re-establish the principle that social security benefits should be adequate to ensure subsistence.

More, though, is needed to change the environments that shape our food preferences and influence the health and sustainability of the food system. For long-term savings and better health, we must protect public health schemes and budgets. The Department of Health should lead a review of advertising codes to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food and drink products, and work with the Treasury and devolved governments to pilot a duty on sugary drinks. The current DEFRA 25-year plan for food and farming needs to be broadened to reduce household food insecurity and tackle health, sustainability and workforce issues.

Click here to read the Commission’s full report, Hungry for Change.


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