Food & Wellbeing

Mental Wellbeing

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Greater Manchester Mental Wellbeing conversation findings published
By Charlene Mulhern, Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership

Findings from the Greater Manchester Mental Wellbeing conversation have been published with over 4,000 people emphasising what is important for their mental wellbeing.

The aim is to use this information to understand what matters and to shape future initiatives to improve mental wellbeing, making sure they reflect the needs of local people. Key findings have indicated that:

  • The majority, (97%), of Greater Manchester citizens think that mental wellbeing is important or very important;
  • Whilst significantly more people know what to do if they wanted to improve their mental wellbeing,(58%), there are 42% who are either unsure or who have no idea;
  • Work (and/or college) is the single biggest factor associated with poor mental wellbeing and cited by around 1/3 of all respondents, followed by existing mental health illnesses and / or disabilities;
  • Almost two in three people in Greater Manchester (61%) don’t feel connected to their community or place;
  • An emphasis of green open space, the ambiance of the surroundings, good facilities and events and people behaving in a more supportive ‘community’ way would meet most people’s needs (63%) for a place of positive wellbeing. This reinforces that improving mental wellbeing is as much about shaping places as it is about engaging people
  • The people surveyed highlight that too many people aren’t very happy (5.2/10), don’t find life satisfying (5.1/10) and worthwhile (5.7/10) and have fairly high levels of anxiety (5.6/10)

Responses to questions clearly indicated that there is no one single solution. Improving mental wellbeing across the population will require a whole system approach which involves everyone working together to bring about sustainable long-term system change. A plan to respond to feedback is now underway.

Access to the detailed report can be found here

 

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The Good Food Bag Update

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By Jenni Pocsai, Operations Manager, The Good Food Bag

Jenni Pocsai, Good Food Bag for GM Poverty Action

Jenni Pocsai

The Good Food Bag is a meal kit service funded by Irwell Valley Homes and One Manchester. The Good Food Bag provides low cost, healthy meal kits to organisations, as well as selling directly to customers in areas of food insecurity. They have initially started in Sale West, in Trafford. The idea is simple; for just £7 people get a bag with ingredients and a simple step by step recipe card to cook a nutritious meal to feed a family of four. Not a family of four? No problem – the meals are just as tasty the next day, so enjoying a left-over lunch, or super speedy supper another day in the week takes care of any leftovers!

Since starting in Trafford in October, the Good Food Bag has partnered with Healthy Me, Healthy Communities to provide the meal kits to those accessing their community grocers.  This is bringing a new group of budget food finders to the doors of the grocers in Hulme and Gorton.  The same idea will be launching in January with The Good Food Bag available at Lucy’s Pantry, run by Emmaus in Salford.

The idea is a simple one, make more options for good value food available to people where they already are. We want to help those who are inexperienced cooks to make their food budgets go further. By learning new recipes and how to put foods together, the offerings from community grocers and other schemes will make more sense and be more cost-effective long term.

Sasha Deepwell, Chief Exec of Irwell Valley explains “It’s more than just providing a food parcel, it’s offering choice, it’s developing skills and inspiring confidence, it’s affordable and it’s feeding families right now. We have a few budget friendly food offerings in Manchester, but none are like The Good Food Bag. It’s part of a new trend towards purchased food, planning ahead for if surpluses run out, and providing a more sustainable solution to help people out of food insecurity.’’

Registered housing providers have certainly played their part in the pandemic, supporting communities who have been hit hard by lockdown and the subsequent recession. But this problem is not going away anytime soon, and the key will be to invest in long terms solutions and try to find a way forward with purchased, rather than donated food – but still provide low cost, high quality food to families on their doorsteps.

Nicole Kershaw, Chief Exec at One Manchester said, “The Good Food Bag is a great way to help those families hardest hit by the pandemic. It’s not a handout, it’s a helping hand when people need it most.  With The Good Food Bag, I know we can make a difference to people’s lives.” In a time where making a difference counts more than ever, find out how you can get involved here.

 

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Poverty as a Health Issue

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By Simon Watts, Public Health Registrar on placement with GMPA

Poverty can cause ill health, but ill health can lead to poverty. We are seeing this more visibly with Covid-19, but this was apparent before the pandemic. As apublic health professional, I am passionate about preventing ill health. This short piece argues that poverty is one of the root causes of ill health and that these two large areas of public policy should not be considered in isolation.

Poverty can cause ill health in several ways. Through my recent research into local welfare assistance I have heard stories of residents living in cold, carpet-less, houses and not being able to afford to eat or pay their bills. These stories have clear links to poor physical and mental health and show the importance of strong welfare support in preventing ill health. Good housing, education and fairly paid jobs are also some of the things that will reduce poverty and protect people’s health longer term. These societal factors have a direct impact on health, but often aren’t talked about in the context of health. Improving health is about the NHS, right? Partly, but the NHS treating illness is only part of the picture. And, treating ill health is usually more expensive than preventing ill health in the first place.

Investing in poverty to improve health

Those on the lowest incomes are more likely to be in poor health and more likely to access emergency healthcare services. This is extremely distressing for the residents it impacts and their families, but it also puts pressure on local health budgets. This has been the case for a long time, but more could be done to change it. Investing what little funds there are available locally to reduce poverty could improve resident’s health and save CCGs and local authorities money in the longer term.

Similarly, we invest in a range of public health advice about how to lead a healthy lifestyle; what to eat, the need to take the right amount of exercise. However, we know that some groups are less able to act on this advice, particularly those on lower incomes who might face additional pressures and stress, so the health gap between low and high income groups widens further (Naidoo & Wills, 2016). Why is that? If your material, basic needs aren’t being fulfilled, why would a balanced diet, or taking regular exercise even be on your mind? Health is not a choice when you are struggling to make your rent or feed your family. Trying to tackle important lifestyle issues without tackling poverty will fail and will leave some lower income groups behind.

If we don’t tackle poverty as one of the underlying causes of poor health, we will continue to pour money into health treatment services without addressing one of the key root causes of that ill health.

There are positive examples of progress though. Across Greater Manchester there are a range of services which work with residents to help improve their circumstances. One of these services, Focused Care, work with residents to support them with underlying challenges in their lives such as housing issues or benefits; when these issues are resolved residents may then have the space and time to focus on their longer term health.

Similarly, my recent work on local welfare provision in Greater Manchester has identified some local authorities which offer strong support for those in financial crisis, helping people get back on their feet and improving their mental and physical health as a result. But access to that support is variable across the city region.

Local authority leadership and governance around poverty mitigation and reduction is needed to improve living conditions, and ultimately health. There are Greater Manchester authorities which have strong structures in place to help reduce poverty, led by elected members, but in some authorities poverty appears to be less engrained in decision making. It is worth looking to Scotland, where action plans on poverty reduction are a mandatory requirement for each local authority, as well as the need to consider inequalities in every policy decision through the Fairer Scotland Duty.

Targeted health interventions can reduce poverty

Poor health can also cause poverty, through no longer be able to work for example. Ideally more ill health would be prevented in the first place, which would reduce financial hardship but, as discussed, preventing ill health is complex. However, the health system can help prevent more severe illness if practitioners know about warning signs and symptoms early enough and work with individuals to manage them.

An example of innovation in this space is a GP pilot in Greater Manchester, funded through the commissioning improvement budget. The pilot involved contacting residents who hadn’t visited their GP for several years, starting with those who had historic risk factors such as high blood pressure or a history of smoking. If those residents didn’t respond, they were followed up, even if that meant multiple phone calls or a home visit.

Traditionally a patient might not have been followed up if they couldn’t be reached three times. Changing that approach meant GP practices persistently seeking out residents who wouldn’t normally engage, helping them proactively manage their health issues, which if left unmanaged could have resulted in a health crisis.  The pilot was disrupted by COVID-19, but this approach is supported elsewhere and could help reduce severe illness and the associated financial hardship.

Conclusions

Simon Watts for GM Poverty Action

Simon Watts

I am convinced that a strategy of proactively supporting the health of our most vulnerable residents will make a positive impact on their health and wealth, when complemented by a wider ranging, local-authority-led poverty mitigation and reduction strategy that targets the underlying causes of poverty. This should be supported by poverty and health being considered in all policy decisions.

The cost of not addressing poverty could be higher from a health and societal perspective than investing in interventions that can reduce poverty. Using elements of the healthcare budget, such as commissioning improvement funds, to support vulnerable groups and poverty reduction could reduce pressure on the healthcare budget longer term.

 

 

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The National Food Strategy

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The National Food Strategy: What does it do for food poverty?
By Sian Mullen

Part one of the National Food Strategy, an independent review supported by a team of experts across the food system, was published last month. It aims to make, “urgent recommendations to support the country through the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period”.

Initially, the strategy does a good job of steering the conversation towards the relationship between food and economics. It highlights some of the factors that cause food poverty: sudden unemployment, the housing benefit cap, and delay in receiving universal credit. Equally, it recognises that the lack of a “financial buffer”, experienced by those in low paid jobs, means they are less likely to be able to cope with the shock of a loss of income. Thus, it correctly determines that food poverty is not caused by a lack of food, it is caused by a lack of funds to buy it.

However, the strategy recommendations do not focus on fixing these underlying causes of poverty. Aside from a brief note to continue to measure food poverty (an important factor in ensuring the right work is done in the right place), the focus is directed towards free meals and voucher support. It predominantly focuses on children, presumably based on the slightly misleading assertion that, “new food bank users are overwhelmingly children and young people”. A closer look at the statistics relating to this claim reveal that while 21% of users during COVID-19 were families with dependent children and 5% did not have dependent children, the other 74% of respondents ‘preferred not to answer’. It is questionable to draw any conclusions around the age of users from such statistics. Equally, 22% of new food bank users (over the age of 16), were aged between 16-24; a significant, but not overwhelming proportion of the population.

This is not to detract from the importance of ensuring that children have access to nutritious food. However, this singular emphasis on children runs the risk of a strategic focus that concentrates on food handouts and vouchers as opposed to changes in welfare and employment policies to ensure adults have access to a decent and reliable income in order to feed themselves and their children.

One of the key recommendations is an increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers. Whilst valuing initiatives aimed at ensuring children are nutritionally healthy, there are flaws to this approach. Firstly, if people do not have enough money to provide for their children, then they should receive more money. Cash assistance avoids issues surrounding accessing vouchers, issues around accessing shops where you can spend vouchers, and provides the recipient with dignity and equality when buying products (for an interesting perspective on the relegation of those on benefits to a world outside of money see: Williams (2013)). Critics argue that vouchers are necessary to ensure funds are spent as intended, however evidence suggests that cash schemes are successful in meeting project aims (Bailey (2013); DFID (2017)) and the level of control provided by vouchers is unreasonable and promotes
dependence on handouts,

“One of the principles of universal credit is to encourage personal responsibility.
It’s inconsistent … to say a benefit claimant should be trusted to pay their rent,
but we shouldn’t trust them to buy food…”
(CPAG)

Secondly, the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers is low with the current rate at only 48%. If vouchers are going to be the temporary answer, then there needs to be a focus on maximising take-up through proper promotion of the support that’s available, reducing complexity and stigma and measures to ensure vouchers can be accessed easily.’

Sian Mullen Food Poverty Programme Coordinator for GM Poverty ActionUltimately, if we are going to end food poverty then we need to address the problems that lead to food poverty. What we really need in Greater Manchester is a strategy that focuses on ensuring everyone has access to a decent and reliable income (Caraher & Furey (2017); Garnham (2020); Macleod (2019); Tait (2015)). Yes, we need some short-term fixes to the symptoms, but without a strategy that has a clear long-term goal of a decent and reliable income for all, the problem of food poverty will remain.

Sian Mullen
GMPA Food Poverty Programme Coordinator

 

 

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Food poverty programme

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GMPA’s Food Poverty Programme Update, and Introducing Sian Mullen
By Tom Skinner

Addressing the underlying causes of food poverty has been a major focus of GMPA’s work over the last three years. Many of you have contributed to it, including through the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance project which co-produced the GM Food Poverty Action Plan, published last year.

Since then, we have pushed for many of the actions in the plan to happen. This includes:

  • The GM Combined Authority collating information about poverty levels, access to food, Healthy Start voucher uptake and more, and sharing this with Local Authorities.
  • A greater recognition of the Combined and Local Authorities’ roles in reducing poverty as a means of tackling food poverty, and elected members and officers being tasked with this.
  • Increasingly joined up thinking about food provision during the school holidays. (Although we eventually want to reach a state where the need for charitable food aid is significantly reduced.)
  • More recently we have been very involved in helping to support and shape GM’s response to Covid-19, particularly addressing the extra impact that the pandemic has had on people in poverty.

To build on this work we recently recruited to a new post – Food Poverty Programme Coordinator – that will focus on implementing the action plan and support measures that address the underlying causes of food poverty.  This work will include piloting place-based partnership approaches to reducing food poverty in different localities across Greater Manchester. We were delighted to have appointed Sian Mullen to the role.


Sian Mullen

Sian Mullen Food Poverty Programme Coordinator for GM Poverty ActionSian has worked in the development and humanitarian sectors both in the UK and abroad for many years. She is passionate about working to alleviate poverty to create a more equal society, and is excited to be focusing on reducing food poverty in Greater Manchester.

Sian has lived in Manchester since 2012 when she came to complete her PhD in Humanitarianism.

Prior to joining GMPA she worked as a programme manager with Oxfam, coordinating their poverty alleviation programme across Greater Manchester. She has also been an active volunteer with several charities involved in food provision including during the Covid-19 response.


Tom for GMFPA article for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner, GMPA Co-Director

At GMPA we are excited about working with Sian and many of our partners over the coming years as we work towards our vision of a Greater Manchester free from poverty. Linked to this is the need for national action on food poverty. Part one of the National Food Strategy, an independent  review supported by a team of experts across the food  system, was published last month. You can read GMPA’s comments in response to the strategy in a separate article on the news page.

 

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Local Welfare Assistance

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Ensure Local Welfare Assistance is the lifeline it needs to be, during this crisis and in the future
By Gareth Duffield, Area Manager – Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, Trussell Trust

During the pandemic we have seen a soaring rise in need. The number of food parcels provided by food banks in the Trussell Trust food network increased by 89% in April compared to last year, with a staggering 107% rise in parcels for families with dependent children.

Over the past few months, we’ve heard lots of suggestions that focus on getting food to people who can’t afford it. But food isn’t the answer to people needing food banks.  We are working towards a society where everyone has enough to buy food for their family, cover their housing costs, heat and light their homes, and to be able to buy all the other essentials we all need to get by.

During this crisis, we have been working in coalition with other anti-poverty charities to call for lifelines to help us all weather this storm, such as through suspending the repayment of Universal Credit advance payments, and increasing benefits that go towards the cost of raising children.

One important safety net is local welfare assistance schemes (LWA) which can provide cash grants to keep households afloat in times of financial crisis. When properly run, they get money to people quickly and can reduce the likelihood that people will become homeless or need to turn to a food bank.

It was heartening that the Prime Minister has announced a £63 million fund for these schemes; and of this, councils in Greater Manchester have received an allocation of £3.9m. Now this money has been allocated, it is absolutely crucial that these funds are administered properly if these schemes are to be the lifeline we so desperately need at this time. We are asking local authorities to:

•  Spend the money as intended: We recognise that local authorities are under huge amounts of pressure in many areas of their budgets, but we must ensure this money is not swallowed up by the growing holes in local authority budgets.

•  Build awareness of Local Welfare Assistance and the new funding: We know awareness of LWA can be extremely low. Poor publicity, unclear application processes and onerous application forms can limit uptake and leave people turning to food banks instead. Local authorities should promote and publicise the existence and purpose of schemes and agree an approach to signposting and support pathways with food banks.

•  Ensure people in need can access Local Welfare Assistance: Given the scale of present hardship, local schemes should consider relaxing their qualifying criteria to ensure those most in need get support. For example, considering applications from low income working families or those with no recourse to public funds.

•  Ensure people get the right kind of support: There must be a flexible, tailored approach to the kinds of support people receive, including the option for cash payments, rather than just food vouchers or other in-kind benefits, so people can buy food and other essentials like gas and electricity like anyone else. We know that GMPA have also been advising councils to adopt this approach.

It will also be important for local authorities to monitor the impact of this new funding, so that we can build the case for long-term investment in local welfare assistance.

We are calling on the UK Government to allocate £250m a year in funding for local welfare assistance, which would bring spending in England in line with equivalent schemes in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We need to ensure that the £63m fund is not a one-off, but instead local authorities can continue to provide this vital funding during the challenging times ahead.

Gareth Duffield TT article for GM Poverty ActionThank you to all our campaigners, food banks, and partners such as The Children’s Society, who helped make the changes we’ve seen so far happen. Please continue to join our calls for long-term investment into this crucial local lifeline.

No one should be forced to use a food bank. When we stand together, we can make a real impact – we hope this new money is an important first step in doing just that.

 

Gareth Duffield

 

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Food support provision through Covid-19

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Food support provision through Covid-19
by Filippo Oncini, University of Manchester

In June, a mixed method study was launched to understand the obstacles, needs, and prospects of the food support providers active in Greater Manchester immediately after the Covid-19 peak. Food support providers were invited to fill out a questionnaire and to participate in a longer interview online. Of the organisations that responded, 55 completed the questionnaire and 33 agreed to a follow up conversation. Five additional interviews were conducted with sector experts not primarily involved in frontline support, to gain additional insight into some of the findings. Although the sample is mostly composed of food banks, it also includes several responses from food pantries, food clubs and meal providers. Preliminary analyses of the data should be taken with a pinch of salt, as respondents are likely to be self-selecting on certain characteristics of the organisations, which may produce biased responses. Nonetheless the data is useful as a starting point to reflect on the emergency responses put in place, the most common difficulties and the expectations food providers have for the near future.

Let us start with some good news: respondents have not been turning eligible people away due to lack of volunteer and staff capacity, or because of a shortage of food in stock. Despite most organisations declaring that the number of volunteers has decreased during the crisis, the capacity to improvise and quickly adapt to the new circumstances, coupled with the great generosity shown by individuals and companies, has allowed them to respond promptly to the increasing requests of people in need. For instance, many of them shifted logistics operations from food pick up to food delivery to help people that were shielding. It is not by chance that a striking majority claimed to be resilient against the challenges posed by the crisis, talking about a rise in monetary and food donations (Figures 1 and 2). Interestingly, despite many food support providers being forced to shut down after the lockdown due to a lack of volunteers and/or funds, the ‘parallel welfare’ provided by the charities and by mutual aid groups (MAGs) apparently absorbed many needs that emerged after the lockdown.

Figures 1 and 2. “Thinking about the following aspects of your organisation, how have each of them changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak?”

Figs 1 and 2 for Oncini artcle for GM Poverty Action

Yet the necessity to maintain the supply of food at all costs came with some drawbacks. The lockdown measures that followed Covid-19 not only affected the financial stability (Figure 3) and the management of the organisations, but actually undermined the influential ways in which food support providers used to operate – i.e. the “social atmosphere” (see Figure 4). Before the lockdown, a whole series of services were offered in addition to food support that were as important as the food parcels themselves. With 40 of the respondents reporting an increase in the number of clients (Figure 5), due to physical distancing measures in place, other forms of support such as financial advice, empathic listening and human connection were partially or totally lost, just when they were likely to be needed the most.

Figures 3 and 4. “On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is “Not at all” and 5 is “Very much so”, to what extent would you say COVID-19 has affected the following?”

Figs 3 and 4 for Oncini article for GM Poverty Action

Figure 5. “Thinking about the following aspects of your organisation, how have each of them changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak?”  

Fig 5 for Oncini article for GM Poverty Action

This leads us to another consideration. The exceptional nature of the first Covid-19 wave provoked the exceptional response of charities and public services alike. The sudden growth of MAGs all over the country is probably the most evident sign of this collective effort. Yet many food providers do not know how to project food poverty relief in the future. Especially during the interviews, respondents wondered whether food and monetary donations would increase again should a second lockdown occur, and stressed that the end of the furlough scheme, winter hardships, and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, will exacerbate the situation for many people that already struggle to make ends meet and increase the number of people in need of food aid. This, in turn, could affect the response capacity of many organisations, some of which have less than two months’ worth of food or cash reserves at current levels of demands (Figures 6 and 7). Hence request of food support providers is the conception of a strategy at both the national and the local level that considers the potential scenarios and responses to a second crisis, to keep the sector afloat regardless of the severity of the upcoming crisis.

Figures 6 and 7. “Roughly, how many weeks will your existing food stocks/cash reserves last at current levels of demand?” 

Figs 6 and 7 for Oncini article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini research - Covid-19 article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini

While highlighting the fragility of the UK welfare system, the Covid-19 crisis has also shed light on the resilience of many food support providers, as well as on their complementarity. From more formal organisations, to less structured and extremely agile ones, food support providers have played a central role in the first phase of this major crisis. Yet the solidity of a social contract between the state, businesses and social groups cannot rely on a sector of the economy, no matter how well organised, intentioned and funded, for shielding the most vulnerable from poverty, precisely because food aid should be a very last resort, and not the central backbone of the social welfare.

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Covid-19: The impact on food support providers in GM

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Update July 1st 2020:

Your participation is very important, and to thank you for taking part, a donation to a charity of your choice will be made.

If you would like to participate please either:

  • Click here and fill in a 20 minute survey (£10 donation)
  • or get in touch with Filippo Oncini by email or via whatsapp on 07340 483318 and schedule a longer interview via Zoom or Skype (£30 donation)

A new study on the impact of Covid-19 on food support providers in Greater Manchester is being conducted by Filippo Oncini, a researcher based at the University of Manchester.

Filippo Oncini research - Covid-19 article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini

The research aims to explore in depth the obstacles, the needs and the prospects of the food providers active in Greater Manchester. The findings will be used to increase awareness of the many challenges met by these organisations, to shed light on their needs and to gather a picture on the general situation. Teamsearch, a research agency hired to collect the data, will call each food provider based in Greater Manchester starting from next week to ask permission to conduct an anonymous phone survey. If they agree, the director or a spokesperson of the organisation will respond to a questionnaire on the characteristics of the organisation and on the impact of Covid-19. In addition, the interviewer will also ask if the respondent would like to participate in an hour-long digital interview with Filippo to better explore some aspects of this crisis.

You can find the participant information sheet with detailed information regarding the survey here. If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact Filippo by email.

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Children’s Food Campaign

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Government urged to keep feeding children during school holidays

By Barbara Crowther, Co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign

Charities, organisations and education unions have called on Education Secretary to announce additional funding for continued food provision during the forthcoming school half-term and summer holidays.

In a joint letter to the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson MP and Schools Minister Vicky Ford MP, the  organisations point to recent figures from the Food Foundation that show around 2 million children across the UK are directly experiencing some level of food insecurity or hunger. Before the crisis, 1.3 million children in England were eligible for benefit-related free school meals, however a further 1.4 million families have applied for Universal Credit since the start of the outbreak.

Campaign Co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign Barbara Crowther says, “Hunger does not know the difference between term time and school holidays, and the Government’s support for families should be continuous through this crisis. Given the scale of food and income insecurity being experienced by so many families, it is critical that the Government makes national level funding available to cover all the school holidays until the start of the new academic year.”

The Welsh Government has already committed £33m additional funding to cover all holidays until the end of August, which is equivalent to holiday provision of £19.50 per week per child eligible for support. However, in England, the Department for Education has so far only committed to £9m funding for pilot holiday food projects in a few selected areas, with successful funding bidders still to be announced. In the letter, the organisations say this is not enough and a national level holiday provision funding formula is now needed “at a level sufficient to expand provision of free school meals substitutes, and to the National School Breakfast Programme, to cover all holiday periods across the whole of England until end of August.”

The Government did extend funding to allow the national school voucher programme for England to cover Easter holidays. The organisations are arguing that giving more advance notice for forthcoming holiday periods would allow schools, academy trusts and local authorities to make better plans with their relevant food and catering suppliers, or alternative voucher/cash support provision, with confidence that they will have the funds to deliver.

More information about Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign and a list of the organisations who have signed up is available here

More information about the GM Food Poverty Action Plan is available here

 

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Assessing the Government’s Food Measures During COVID-19

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By Tom Skinner

A Parliament inquiry last week called for evidence on COVID-19 and food supply. I was asked to help Greater Manchester’s response to this call, answering the question, “Are the Government and food industry doing enough to support people to access sufficient healthy food; and are any groups not having their needs met? If not, what further steps should the Government and food industry take?” Here is what I wrote:

Central Government efforts to provide food for up to 1.5m extremely vulnerable people shielding from COVID 19 is welcome, although there have been challenges around ensuring local authorities are fully aware of who is  in receipt of support from the government’s scheme. This has made it difficult to ensure local responses are coordinated and complementary to the national scheme.

The biggest concern however is that the number of people in need far exceeds that list, both because the criteria exclude some people who have serious health conditions (there should be a larger semi-shielded list of people who, even if they turn down or are ineligible for food packages from the Government, are still prioritised for other services and access to supermarkets), and because they don’t consider low income or other related socioeconomic factors. More than three million people reported going hungry in the first three weeks of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown alone. Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s own survey of food support providers early in the COVID-19 crisis showed increased demand for their services, but concerns about the food supply and a major decrease in volunteer capacity that will have worsened further since the lockdown started.

The £3.25m grant for redistributing surplus food has helped to allay some of the worst fears about food supply to public sector and VCSE food providers, but food banks in several areas of Greater Manchester have still been running dangerously low on supplies and have had to buy food in, either depleting their own cash reserves or relying on bailouts from their local authorities. This financial hit compounds the impact of austerity in which those councils with the most financially vulnerable populations also experienced the harshest cuts, and there is significant concern that the “Fair Funding Review” could continue or even accelerate that trend. These concerns about local authority and voluntary and community and social enterprise (VCSE) finances in Greater Manchester risk undermining the city region’s determination to provide for all of its citizens and to transition out of this crisis with a shared approach to reducing food poverty. A commitment to bolster funding for councils in the future, to meet the needs of their low-income and other vulnerable households (including but not limited to ring-fenced and better funded Local Welfare Assistance Schemes) is a missing pillar of the Government’s COVID-19 response.

Household income itself remains a barrier to accessing food, despite many welcome moves from the Government – the furlough scheme, the end of the benefits freeze, the increase in support through Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit and the extra funding to councils to meet increased demand for support with paying council tax. The removal of the requirement for Healthy Start applications to have a signature from a health worker is welcome, and we encourage the Government to move as quickly as possible to launching the system for online applications, as well as setting targets to increase uptake.

Tom Skinner, GMPA Director writes editorial for GM Poverty Action

However the 5 week wait for Universal Credit continues to increase household food insecurity, as does the 2-child limit. We also advocate substantially increasing Child Benefit and scrapping the benefit cap that limits the total amount of support a household can receive through the benefit system.

Tom Skinner
Director, GM Poverty Action

 

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