Food poverty, are we at a crossroads?

Welcome though efforts to feed children living with poverty are, the financial stress experienced by people facing loss of income will not ultimately be resolved by providing free food, writes director of Food in Community, Chantelle Norton.

The vote in parliament against extending the scheme to help children in receipt of free school meals in England during school holidays prompted a public outcry, and rapid community mobilisation.  Within days, a map of businesses, some already hit hard by the pandemic, was dense with pins, each representing restaurants, cafes, pubs, sports clubs and retailers offering free food for children during the holidays, supplementing provision offered by councils, schools and community organisations.

Marcus Rashford MBE, footballer and holiday hunger alleviation campaigner, was said to be “overwhelmed” by the community response.

Poverty has been further increasing in the UK due to Covid-19. As a frontline organisation delivering fresh food boxes to households experiencing hardship and fresh food to South Devon’s food banks, we at Food in Community had an existing recipe box scheme for families in school holidays and a ‘pay it forward’ meal delivery service in collaboration with a local bakery, so when the news broke, we scrambled to reinstate them.

Prior to Rashford’s most recent intervention, the number of fresh food boxes we delivered each week to struggling families was still almost double the numbers we delivered at the same time last year and food banks across the nation have experienced similarly increased levels of demand.

More than three million people, around one in ten people of working age, are currently claiming Universal Credit. The Job Retention Scheme is due to close imminently and the coming recession is forecast to be the worst on record.

The need to tackle holiday hunger comes at a time when voluntary organisations across the country have been running beyond capacity for months as we have responded to the crisis brought about by the pandemic. We are at a crossroads, where the capacity of food aid organisations could be dramatically further expanded and resulting in a society where providing food through charitable means becomes ever more embedded.

Food in Community
Food in Community is delivering extra food boxes to families in need during Autumn half term.

This has already happened in the US and Canada, and in the worst case is exploited by unethical food businesses, who according to Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger, claim tax breaks for donating their waste food to food banks, pay less than a living wage to their staff, who then are forced to use the same food banks in order to feed their families.

Alternatively, we could push for a ‘money first’ approach, which puts cash into the pockets of families experiencing hardship and is potentially a more dignified solution, offering choice of whether to pay a bill, purchase food, or a child’s winter coat.

As articulated by the Independent Food Aid Network, a collective of independent food aid providers, “the problem that needs to be addressed is escalating poverty”, where lack of food is a symptom of inadequate household income.

Welcome though efforts to feed children living with poverty are, the financial stress experienced by people facing loss of income will not ultimately be resolved by providing free food. The question is whether this latest collective outpouring of goodwill can be harnessed to drive lasting positive change.


Leave a Reply

  1. One of things that always amazes me in these situation is the narrow mindedness of central government – put simple any parent when faced with his children going without, especially food, will eventually cave in to the need to obtain that food in a matter other than legal. Yes I know that at normal times most adults (people in fact) tend to be law abiding but these are not normal times. Thus “bringing home the bacon” (with appoligies to the non meat eaters – but please remember that when the choice is eat [anything] or die survival instincts tend to overpower other concerns) has a whole new meaning – theft may and probably will become commonplace. That is when Food Aid in all it’s guizes becomes necessary – that fails and we all tumble down hill – the government especially. Remember the government does not have enough police to control all it’s draconian laws – not only that the police also have family who can be affected as well! Come on Government – pull your fingers out and THINK!

    the Walrus

  2. I’m just not certain that throwing money at the situation always helps. Quite frankly, to feed a child for 1 week during 5 days of school holiday could easily be no more than £1 per day (depending on where you shop/what you give your child). Is this all taken out of proportion when you look at ‘real hunger’ in impoverished places around the globe. I don’t doubt that there are issues around ‘life management’ and that people are definitely struggling financially. I’ve been there, at least twice, the first time not going to the supermarket until I got paid until the end of the month and feeding my kids really cheap stuff (the likes of Liddl/Aldi didn’t exist then) usually two slices of bread with cheese or hummous, an apple, a fromage frais and a packet of crisps. I would really have loved to feel there was the support of a foodbank then, it would have made me feel I could cope and that others cared because they’d dontated. I wouldn’t hesitate to use one now if I had to and certainly wouldn’t feel degraded, why should I? It wouldn’t be my fault it would be a sensible action. Sadly many people just don’t know how to put cheap nutritious food on the table, they don’t know what it is to be a middle-class capable Mummy/Daddy managing budgets, foraging for free food, getting creative, etc. Unfortunately, many people continue to find money for alchohol and/or cigarettes and often find solace in these areas because they’re not feeling capable of anything else and I speak with experience as a commnunity worker visiting houses in the poorest, run down parts where families have all sorts going on. I’m not denying there is a problem and I wish the government had paid at half-term because in the scheme of things it wasn’t much and the issue went on and on when there were so many other huge issues too. Sadly the money in many cases wont go where it needs to. Sadly these families need much more than money. Today I went for a last coffee in a cafe (something I didn’t feel I could do in the days when I was struggling), the waitress said she was really looking forward to being furloughed again for a month, getting 80 per cent of her salary and having a ‘month off’. She said she’d probably stay at home and drink like last time! When I was out of work years ago I volunteered for a year for the NHS and with homeless charitites. Times were tough, again a food bank would have been great or a cafe that offered a free coffee to a volunteer. I think it’s fantastic that all these food communities are coming together to support people, the sense of community is wholesome and encouraging. Let’s not get too proud to give and accept a bit of charity now and again.

    1. Thanks Tina for sharing what must have been a tough time, and glad you agree what a fantastic job Food in Community are doing.
      I think what you’ve picked up on -putting affordable nutritious food on the table- is a crucial part in the battle against food insecurity.
      How do you think we could do this?

    2. Perhaps by the government not allowing the increase in the setting up of unhealthy expensive take-aways in certain areas – which always seem to be packed. and sit next to adverts for weight watchers.
      I’m not against take-aways we just seem to think it’s okay for them to dominate shopping outlets in some places.
      I agree affordable nutritious food delivered via the local community – maybe we need more recipes/ideas for families to go with food we give out (I don’t mind volunteering to do this as a retired nutritionist!), and fundamentally it starts with education at school and within the community like your own and similar great initiatives.

    3. I mean in an ideal world, there are no food banks. In fact food banks are an indicator of a dysfunctional society.
      I think you’re right, cooking lessons, with a focus on making healthy nutritious food taste good.
      What do you think to reducing/abolishing food marketing for unhealthy foods?

    4. Yes! No/little nutritional value in many foods that are heavily marketed, but need to agree what is ‘unhealthy’ food. And that’s a BIG subject!


In case you missed it

Receive the Digital Digest

Food, Farming, Fairness, every Friday.

Learn more

About us

Find out more about Wicked Leeks and our publisher, organic veg box company Riverford.

Learn more