National action needed to end food poverty
by Tom Skinner
As regular readers of this newsletter will know, GMPA coordinates the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance, and launched the Food Poverty Action Plan for Greater Manchester earlier this year. The Action Plan describes how we should work together (and in many cases, already are working together) at the local level to help address food poverty.
However, the Plan recognises that the power we have to address poverty at the local level is limited, and that many of the levers such as the welfare system, minimum wages, pensions, and funding for local authorities and public health, are held at the national level. We need wholehearted and strategic support at the national level for ending food insecurity, by addressing the underlying causes of poverty as well as improving access to good food.
We were therefore pleased to have the chance to submit evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment.
We shared insights from across the Alliance, academics and people experiencing poverty, and pointed to a great deal of good practice being carried out by councils and other organisations across Greater Manchester. On the role of the UK Government we said,
“Things need to change. Wages and benefits haven’t kept up with living costs while essential public services
have been cut, so hard-stretched communities are picking up the pieces with responses that are well-intentioned
and vital, but inadequate. The burden of mitigating food insecurity is falling on the wrong sector, with food
banks struggling to retain volunteers (many of whom are older), and unable to meet the overwhelming need
of so many people in their communities. While efforts are made in some cases to offer “wrap-around support”
such as debt and welfare advice alongside food provision, these efforts are undermined by cuts to those
(and other) services. At a time when the Government should take responsibility for ensuring a right to food, it has stepped
back and left the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to take on an impossible task.”
We called on the Government to enshrine a right to food in UK law by embedding the Sustainable Development Goal “zero hunger by 2030” into domestic legislation, and appointing a minister responsible for meeting this goal. We also listed a number of other actions that could be taken at the national level, including:
- Raising the minimum wage to the Real Living Wage for all workers over 18. In the interim, or if this is not possible for all sectors/employers, full support should be given to the Real Living Wage as a voluntary scheme for employers to sign up to, while ending exploitative practices associated with zero hours contracts.
- Ensuring that the welfare system, including pensions, provides enough for people and families to live on. The system should engage with claimants to understand their needs and build support around them. Reinstate ring-fenced and increased budgets for Local Welfare Assistance Schemes for when people fall through the gaps in the welfare system.
- Increasing levels of social and affordable housing.
- Requiring local authorities to have poverty strategies in place (co-produced with people experiencing poverty, the VCSE sector and other partners), and to appoint lead members who will take responsibility for the implementation of these strategies.
- Action to address food deserts and the poverty premium
- More support and emphasis on the Healthy Start scheme, targets for each area to increase uptake.
- Measuring food insecurity at the national and local level
- Involving people experiencing poverty, and the public, VCSE and private sectors in an “exit strategy” for over-reliance on food banks
You may have noticed the new Food Poverty Alliance logo – we hope you like it!
The Food Poverty Alliance is a Greater Manchester Poverty Action project