Category: Blog

Food price rises: squeezing budgets in all directions

By Dr Naomi Maynard, Good Food Programme Director, Feeding Liverpool

We can all see it at the check-out, food prices are continuing to rise. So perhaps the data released today showing that annual food inflation is now at 11.6% – the fastest rise on record – is no surprise, but for our network of emergency food providers and community food spaces, and the people they serve, it crystallizes what has already become a painful and worrying reality.

Foodbank use across the city continues to rise each month as households who previously were ‘just about managing’ now cannot cope with the triple blow of rises to energy, petrol and food prices – there is simply nothing left to cut in what were already tight budgets. Community food spaces – our city’s pantries, food markets and community shops – are reporting similar trends, as more people look for ways to save money. There has been a notable step-change from residents describing a food pantry as a place you ‘topped up’ your households food shop, to a now relying on the food they get as the basis of their households food that week.

For some foodbanks, the drop in donations has led them to rely on funding to bulk buying basic items to fill their food parcels, with rising food prices this funding converts into less and less food each week. Micah Liverpool, who now give out about 400 food parcels each week, explained that a few months ago they were bulk buying pasta from a supermarket at 20p for 500g. The supermarket is now no longer stocking this item at that price, meaning they now need to choose a higher priced range of items where 500g of pasta costs over £1.

The thousands of pregnant women and lower-income families with young children in Liverpool who receive support via the Healthy Start Scheme, are also on the sharp end of these rises. The Healthy Start Scheme is a government benefit that has remained static since April 2021 –  with the majority of recipients receiving £4.25 per week (this doubles to £8.50 during the first year of a child’s life). As prices of fruit, vegetables and milk continue to rise, this weekly allowance doesn’t stretch as far, having cumulative long term negative impacts on the health of children and pregnant women in Liverpool.

As I said to Capital news today, I am no economist, nor are many who work and volunteer at the organisations we seek to serve and support. But what we can say and what we said last month collectively with Feeding Britain, the Independent Food Aid Network and the Trussell Trust  is that we are at breaking point. Something needs to change now, before this situation gets worse. Benefits and support payments– including the Healthy Start Scheme and the weekly allowance for Asylum Seekers – needs to be uprated to reflect inflation. The annual inflation statistics are not theoretical numbers, they tell us whether our nan will need to skip a meal today or whether we can give our children a piece of fruit when they come home from school. Change needs to happen now, not in three, six or nine months time.

Why scrapping the obesity strategy won’t solve the cost-of-living crisis and protect low-income households

Nobody can deny that the cost-of-living crisis is placing a significant strain on households to pay for essentials such as energy/heating, travel to work/school and food. Just last week, the soaring price of milk, cheese and eggs has pushed food inflation to its highest level for 14 years.

The situation is now starting to affect the amount of money households can spend on food, in particular more expensive items such as fruit and vegetables. As such, we fully support the Government in exploring options, at speed, to help minimise the burden this is placing on households.

It appears the Treasury has earmarked current and planned obesity policy as one area to review in light of the crisis, and there is a very real possibility that policies, which are designed to protect public health including the 2018 Soft Drinks Industry Levy, could be scrapped.  Other potential casualties include a raft of measures proposed in the previous Prime Minister’s national obesity strategy, including removing less healthy food and drink from the checkout and restricting less healthy food and drink from being advertised on TV and online.

Given the mounting crisis facing the UK , some campaigners are calling for the government to help, giving people enough to eat, rather than spending time on implementing policies to reduce obesity.

In this blog, we will attempt to explore the decision to U-turn on obesity policy from a food insecurity perspective.

 

It cannot be quantity vs quality, it has to be both

Consideration must not only be given to the quantity of food available but also the quality (i.e., healthiness) of food. It is important people are able to access the right quality, variety, as well as quantity of food. If we do not address all of these aspects, it is likely to only further widen the health disparities we already see in this country.

The reality is at present, those who have limited budget to spend on food and drink have to make a difficult decision between food quantity and quality. Often, quantity will take precedent to avoid anyone in the household going hungry, but this can also mean meals are high calorie but nutrient poor. Poor quality diet is a key contributor to diet-related ill health, including overweight and obesity. It comes as no surprise that rates of children with obesity are increasing significantly faster in communities with high deprivation levels compared to those with low deprivation levels.

Furthermore, a study from 2020 in the North West found that those who were more food insecure tended to have a higher Body Mass Index.

Reducing health disparities was a key manifesto item for the Conservative Party as part of their Levelling Up agenda and scrapping obesity policies that will help to bridge the inequality gap is unwise.

 

Sugar tax revenue is providing valuable funding to feed children at breakfast and during holidays

It seems completely counter intuitive to be reconsidering the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL or better known as the sugar tax) in light of the cost-of-living crisis.

The levy has generated over £1bn in revenue since its inception in 2018, which has been reinvested into supporting children and families who are likely to feel the effects of the cost-of-living crisis greatest.

For example, the revenue has helped to fund the National School Breakfast Programme, whereby schools which have 40% or more pupils in bands A-F of the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index, can access funding to set up a healthy school breakfast programme. This will provide some relief for family’s food bills, which are reaching record highs, and ensure the children who need it most have access to a healthy and nutritious breakfast and are ready to learn ahead of the school day .

Furthermore, revenue from the SDIL has also supported the Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF). HAF is designed to provide support to children in receipt of free school meals through holiday periods, which is means-tested, meaning households on low incomes or in receipt of certain entitlements can benefit from a free nutritious lunch for all children between 4-16 years old.

It is also worth highlighting that the legislation which has been in place for four years now, has removed 48 million kilos of sugar from the nation’s diet, and is supported by the public.

Unless the Government have plans on how to fill this funding gap, scrapping the SDIL could go as far as increasing the burden of the cost-of-living crisis on low-income households.

 

Scrapping obesity policy now will not shield households from the cost-of-living crisis – the solutions lie elsewhere

We have yet to see any evidence that suggests scrapping obesity policies will mitigate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households. How will scrapping legislation that will ensure only healthier items are placed at prominent locations in store mitigate the impact? How will scrapping legislation that will mean only healthier food and drink can be advertised on TV and online via social media play any role in softening the blow?

The solutions to the cost-of-living crisis lie elsewhere. There are many other areas the government could explore, that would actually have a meaningful impact.

We urge the government to focus on solutions that put more money in people’s pockets, enabling households to afford both the quality and quantity of food they need to eat well. These could include ensuring benefits are uprated in real time to keep up with the true cost of inflation (including uprating financial support for asylum seekers) and reinstating the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, which before it was taken away was shown to protect some children from poverty . We would encourage the government to work with local authorities to implement measurable plans to improve the uptake of benefits such as Pension Credit and The Healthy Start Scheme and consider immediately extending Free School Meals to the 800,000 children living in poverty who are currently not eligible.

Other immediate measures such as pausing all debt deductions taken by the Department of Work and Pensions and removing the benefits cap would significantly strengthen the benefits safety net for many of our lowest income households, whilst aligning the national minimum wage with the Real Living Wage would offer much needed support for working families (see Sustain’s letter to Liz Truss detailing Ten actions which could help our food system).

The Government could also consider targeting the rising cost of public transport. Here in Liverpool, the combined authority have capped single bus journeys in the region at a maximum of £2 from September, in a bid to help residents who are being hit hard by the cost of living crisis; meaning some passengers will save up to 13% versus the current cost of their journey. The Department for Transport have also announced this scheme would be rolled out nationally next year from January – March 2023 to help tackle the cost of living crisis. However, European countries including France, Germany and Ireland have taken a step further by offering significantly subsidised or even free train travel as a way of helping people cope with the cost-of-living crisis. Furthermore, the cost-of-living crisis has already arrived, families need support now rather than waiting until next year to benefit from any subsidised travel.

One study across the whole of Europe found that some of the UK’s largest cities – Birmingham, London and Greater Manchester – are ranked the worst for public transport affordability, with residents being asked to fork out 8-10% of their household budget on monthly travel costs compared to just 2% in Oslo.

Freeing up this household cost could go towards other important household costs, such as food bills, not to mention encourage more sustainable forms of travel.

 

Food for thought

The government’s previous cabinet, through the existing National Obesity Strategy, appeared to be sensitised to the importance of reducing obesity and taking a population level approach to healthy weight. This was largely brought about due to the stark evidence linking obesity to Covid-19 complications; and cited the need to ‘build back healthier’.

Last year’s National Child Measurement Programme statistics were sobering, showing almost a 5% increase in obesity at both reception and year 6 age.

This review into obesity policy is terrible timing for the nation’s health. We urge the government to stand firm and progress with the original proposed actions to reduce the prevalence of obesity.

 

Co-authors:

Dr Naomi Maynard is the Good Food Programme Director at Feeding Liverpool, the city of Liverpool’s food alliance. Prior to this role, Naomi worked as a Senior Researcher for Church Army, and Food Insecurity Lead Executive for Together Liverpool.

https://www.feedingliverpool.org/ / Twitter: @feedingliverpool @goodfoodlpool

Beth Bradshaw is a Project Manager and Registered Associate Nutritionist working at the public health charity Food Active. Beth is currently co-chair of the good food plan policy and advocacy community group.

https://foodactive.org.uk/ / Twitter: @food_active

A Healthy Start for Liverpool

By Dr Naomi Maynard, Good Food Programme Director – Feeding Liverpool

The Healthy Start Scheme is a lifeline for so many pregnant women and families with young children, providing access to good food: fruit, vegetables, milk and vitamins which are so important to give your child the best start in life. It certainly was for me, when back in 2014 my husband and I welcomed our first son whilst we were both students: the weekly benefit meant our family could have fresh fruits and vegetables at a time when money was tight.

But so many people who could be a part of this scheme are missing out – in Liverpool the figure is close to 1 in 3 eligible people not benefiting from the scheme – meaning last year nearly three quarters of a million pounds, set aside for the Healthy Start Scheme, went unclaimed. Many families we were interacting with at children’s centres and in our community food sector told us they simply did not know about the scheme, or were unsure how to apply.

Feeding Liverpool, therefore chose to make improving the uptake of Healthy Start a priority for our food alliance this year. We have focused our efforts on two interconnected strands: developing a network of Community Healthy Start Champions, and working with children’s centres, parents, health visitors and our public health colleagues to develop a series of national and local recommendations, which if enacted would significantly improve both the uptake and the reach of the Healthy Start Scheme.

Community Healthy Start Champions

In May, we ran an online and in-person training session about Healthy Start for volunteers and staff from community food spaces and emergency food providers. Starting with the basics of explaining the scheme before moving onto looking at the three ways the voluntary food sector can support in our mission of increasing awareness and uptake:

  1. Advertising the Health Start Scheme

Each of our community food spaces committed to advertising the Healthy Start. We provided them with two of the NHS’s Easy Read booklets to help us explain to members of food clubs, clients at foodbanks, what the Healthy Start Scheme is, and a bunch of stickers to put on fridges and freezers. Public Health have also committed to funding Healthy Start pop-up banners for 30 venues.

  1. Supporting members to sign up

The digitalisation of the Healthy Start scheme in March has left many worried that those who are struggling with digital access may be excluded. Where community spaces can, we have encouraged them to use their WIFI and gadgets to support members to sign up online, and have a Healthy Start Community Champion available to support people to sign up.

  1. Accepting Healthy Start cards at community food spaces

If a community food space can accept debit card payments, and offers at least one of the Healthy Start eligible items (frozen, tinned or fresh fruit or vegetables, milk or lentils)  they can accept the new Healthy Start cards. We have worked with community groups who didn’t have ‘Sum-up’ machines, or the equivalent to purchase one (Feeding Britain have generously offered to supply these machines where needed). We then spent time with the different models of community food spaces to work out how integrating the cards could work for them. Our largest community food space network in Liverpool, is the Your Local Pantry network with 14 pantries in the city. They have been piloting a split payment approach – where a member can put 50% of their usual membership cost onto their Healthy Start card and pay the remainder via cash and card. So far this is going well!

It is early days but the signs are encouraging, with our 80 new Healthy Start Community Champions completing their training and beginning to put into practice what they have learnt whilst acting as ambassadors for the scheme in their own community venues.

We will be re-running our Healthy Start training in the months ahead, do join us and encourage others in your organisations to become Healthy Start Community Champions.

In-Person:

Monday 17th October 1:30pm to 3:00pm.
This training will be led by Annette James from Feeding Liverpool at St Andrew’s Church, Clubmoor, 176 Queens Drive, Liverpool, L13 0AL Register to attend in-person here.

Online via Zoom:

Wednesday 2nd November 10:00am to 11:00am.
This training will be led by Annette James from Feeding Liverpool. Register to attend online here.

 

Our local and national recommendations

The second element of our work, kindly funded by Torus Foundation, has involved engaging with and listening to the many people (or ‘stakeholders’) connected with the scheme: parents, children’s centre staff, midwives, GP’s and public health colleagues.

This work has culminated in a series of recommendations about how the scheme could be improved, ranging from national asks including expanding the eligibility of the scheme so more families can be supported, to the need for a national communications campaign. Last week one of Liverpool’s MP Ian Byrne took our concerns to a parliamentary session with Kate Green MP – lobbying for changes to these schemes.

Surely investing in and improving Healthy Start is an easy cost-of-living-crisis win, getting support through an established infrastructure to some of the households who need it the most?

More locally we have identified the need for a cross-sector Healthy Start working group, connected parts of the system, and developed more strategic local communications – alongside a series of practical actions we can each take to ensure pregnant women and families know about Healthy Start (such as this summer when we sent out 10,000 Healthy Start flyers via the Holiday Activities and Food network).

We’d encourage readers to take a look at our reports and get in touch with our team if you think you or your organisation can take one (or more!) of the recommendations forward.

International examples of best practice emergency provision supporting people facing destitution

Feeding Liverpool recently submitted three submissions to the All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into ending the need for foodbanks.  A wide range of opinions have been offered about the best way forward for ending the need for foodbanks – this work will form the foundations for a wider review of our city’s crisis response.

This series of blogs is taken from the Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group submission.

What can we learn from international examples of best practice in terms of effective emergency provision in supporting people facing destitution?

By Ellen Schwaller, PHD candidate at the University of Liverpool and member of the Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group

Food insecurity is rooted in long-term social inequalities. Household income alone is the strongest predictor of being at-risk for experiencing food insecurity[1]. Centring this issue as a symptom of deeper and complex issues is key to understanding the role of various interventions to address both long- and short-term food insecurity. Community-based, food assistance programmes, while important to alleviate temporary food insecurity, are not viable long-term solutions[2] and in some cases were not successful in reaching all food insecure households experiencing additional crises during the COVID 19 pandemic.[3] Fiscal policies supporting families such as targeted cash-transfers lead to better food security outcomes,[4] and further evidence supports shifting to more comprehensive, population-based fiscal solutions (e.g. a modified universal-basic income and increases to minimum wage) for better outcomes.[5]

Here, examples of targeted (food-based) fiscal interventions from the United States are briefly summarised and examined. Outside of in-kind food provision, interventions in developed countries are split into two approaches: subsidies and income or cash-transfers. These are often aimed at the household or individual experiencing food insecurity. One of the most wide-reaching cash-transfer policies in the US is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While it is generally considered effective in improving food security for the most disadvantaged, it has been criticised for a number of reasons (e.g., as an entitlement programme there are stigma and barriers to access and gaps for ineligible households experiencing food insecurity).

This well-established and far-reaching programme provides a platform to adapt to address additional needs and leverage for other interventions.  During the COVID 19 pandemic this was achieved through top ups to funding and was successful at preventing food insecurity.[6] Equally, other interventions (e.g. food financing initiatives) can be combined with SNAP to further improve access to healthy foods.[7] Nationally, double dollar programmes for fresh produce at farmers markets are also leveraged to increase access to fruits and vegetables and simultaneously support the local food system.

Less far-reaching but important to consider is the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program within the USDA. It supports nutrition incentive (NI) programmes, produce prescription programmes, and related training. A recent report demonstrated a two dollar return for every one dollar spent to the local food retail economy along with sustained nutritional benefits and reduced food insecurity to participants in the funded interventions.[8] The report includes additional details and outcomes of a two-year period of funding for 30 programmes across the US The breadth of NI programmes funded demonstrate promising local and community-driven models to improve food security and nutrition while supporting the local economy and food system (e.g., doubling dollars at local farmers’ markets, subsidising community supported agriculture shares). It also highlights programmes that support both accessibility and availability of healthy food (e.g., mobile markets).

This type of initiative marries community-based knowledge of local systems and needs with the necessary infrastructure and support from larger government funding; however, the temporary nature of this grant-making process is cause for concern and must be combined with long-term efforts to address root causes of food insecurity. Leaning on community-based efforts and charities rather than comprehensive reform is a dangerous approach especially when faced with extreme shocks. Ensuring more permanent, government-based structures need to be in-place to support households at risk of and those already experiencing food insecurity.

[1] Gundersen C, Kreider B, Pepper J. The economics of food insecurity in the United States. Appl Econ Perspect Policy. 2011;33(3); Leete L, Bania N. The effect of income shocks on food insufficiency. Rev Econ Househ. 2010;8(4); Sriram U, Tarasuk V. Economic Predictors of Household Food Insecurity in Canadian Metropolitan Areas. J Hunger Environ Nutr. 2016;11(1).

[2] Loopstra R. Interventions to address household food insecurity in high-income countries. Proc Nutr Soc. 2018;77(3):270–81.

[3] Men F, Tarasuk V. Food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Food charity, government assistance and employment. Can Public Policy. 2021;COVID-19(April 2020).

[4] Ionescu-Ittu R, Glymour MM, Kaufman JS. A difference-in-differences approach to estimate the effect of income-supplementation on food insecurity. Prev Med (Baltim) [Internet]. 2015;70:108–16. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.017

[5] Gundersen C. Viewpoint: A proposal to reconstruct the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a universal basic income program for food. Food Policy [Internet]. 2021;101(April):102096. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2021.102096; Men F, Urquia ML, Tarasuk V. The role of provincial social policies and economic environments in shaping food insecurity among Canadian families with children. Prev Med (Baltim) [Internet]. 2021;148(October 2020):106558. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2021.106558

[6] Bryant A, Follett L. Hunger relief: A natural experiment from additional SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lancet Reg Heal – Am [Internet]. 2022;10:100224. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lana.2022.100224

[7] Cantor J, Beckman R, Collins RL, Dastidar MG, Richardson AS, Dubowitz T. SNAP participants improved food security and diet after a full-service supermarket opened in an urban food desert. Health Aff. 2020;39(8).

[8] Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition. Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center (GusNIP NTAE): Impact Findings [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://www.nutritionincentivehub.org/media/fjohmr2n/gusnip-ntae-impact-findings-year-2.pdf

Measures for setting income levels and their role in tackling short-term crisis

Feeding Liverpool recently submitted three submissions to the All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into ending the need for foodbanks.  A wide range of opinions have been offered about the best way forward for ending the need for foodbanks – this work will form the foundations for a wider review of our city’s crisis response.

This series of blogs is taken from the Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group submission.

How can setting income levels, such as Minimum Income Guarantee or a Universal Basic Income, be used to support people facing destitution? What role could these measures play in tackling short-term crisis and ending the need for food banks?

Response written by Revd Dr Tony Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Business, Liverpool Hope University and member of the Good Food Community and Advocacy Policy Group

There has been a significant debate, globally, on the introduction of various forms of guaranteed income or, even Universal Basic Income (UBI) schemes, particularly since the Financial Crash of 2008-09.  Several experiments have been introduced in countries as diverse as Canada, Finland and Kenya.  Most recently, the Welsh Senedd has introduced a scheme to provide a guaranteed income scheme for care leavers, at the age of 18, to enable them to have a baseline income, to help them, as they leave care and begin independent living.

This scheme, launched in June 2022, has the aim of avoiding the ‘cliff edge’ of moving young people from local authority institutional living, into the adult world, often with no immediate support network around them.  The Welsh experiment had been, initially, trailed as one involving UBI[1].  But, this confused a range of policy objectives. David Deans[2] of BBC Wales Politics commented on May 17, 2021:

“Plans are at an early stage, but it seems unlikely it would be a large-scale project.  A spokesman for the Welsh government said: “We have followed the progress of universal basic income pilot projects around the world with interest and believe there is an opportunity to test the concept in Wales.  There is more work to be done in this area but we are interested in developing a small pilot, potentially involving people leaving care.”  In the event, the Welsh scheme has been reported, widely, as an example of UBI, when it is no such thing.

The basics

“Under a UBI system, every citizen, regardless of their means, receives regular sums of money for life to cover the basic cost of living.  Its proponents argue that it can alleviate poverty and give people time to retrain and adapt to changing workplaces, be more creative and become more active and engaged.  Jonathan Williams, co-founder of the Cardiff UBI Lab, part of the UBI Lab Network, comments: “It’s a 21st-century solution to 21st-century problems – it could be our generation’s NHS…Our generation needs a policy that is going to help people and I think this could really invigorate entrepreneurialism and help local economies.”” (Harris, 2020)[3].

Fundamentally, UBI is a cash benefit provided without conditions to everyone. This conflicts with the essential basis of British welfare policy, which is selectivist in nature, and mistrustful of the universalist principle.  As far back as the Elizabethan and Victorian Poor Laws, British social policy has sought to differentiate between ‘the deserving’ and ‘the undeserving’ poor.  In the recent past there have been upsurges of populist media outrage, at “overly generous welfare payments”, in terms of “scroungerphobia” (Deacon, 1978, Becker and MacPherson, 1985, Littler and Williamson, 2017, Kaufman, 2021[4]).

But, contemporary shifts in the relationship between work, welfare, fiscal policy and the current debates over cost-of-living crises, food insecurity and shortages – because of supply chain shocks, such as the Ukraine war – have all played into a redrawing of the narrative. The threat to many sources of employment from AI-based automation and changes to the nature of work have led to increasing interest in UBI.  Nevertheless, there remains a prevailing attitude that welfare – especially in any universalistic form – leads to people becoming feckless, lazy and workshy.

The debate

The recent experiment with UBI, in Finland, exposed a core fault-line in the debate.  In Finland 2,000 people were given a monthly flat payment of €560 (£490; $634 at the time) from January 2017 to December 2018.  The aim was to see if a guaranteed safety net would help people find jobs, and support them if they had to take insecure work.  The Finnish experiment was declared unsuccessful, by many in the UK.  It did not lead to people becoming more motivated to seek work, all it did was make people feel happier and less worried about the future! In other words, there is a clear divergence between those who see the purpose of basic income as a driver to increasing employment or to improving well-being.

Nor does this split reflect conventional political divisions. Sam Bowman[5], of the right-wing think-tank, the Adam Smith Institute, wrote in 2013:

“The ideal welfare system is a basic income, replacing the existing anti-poverty programmes the government carries out (tax credits and most of what the Department for Work and Pensions does besides pensions and child benefit). This would guarantee a certain income to people who have no earnings from work at all, and would gradually be tapered out according to earnings for people who do have an income until the tax-free allowance point, at which point they would begin to be taxed”.  This is a selectivist, not a universalist standpoint, but since 2013, views have shifted towards UBI, even on the Right. Indeed, the idea of a Negative Income Tax was introduced by Milton Friedman, the high-priest of free-market thinking, and of Reagonomics and Thatcherism, in the 1970s.

The reality

So, could some form of basic income be a better way to address food poverty and insecurity than the presence of food banks, pantries and the like? The blunt fact is that despite the various experiments, the overriding limiting factor is cost. The Welsh Government’s new policy is, probably, the most large-scale attempt to introduce basic income anywhere in the world, to date. But it is minimalist in extent, being confined to 18-year olds leaving social care. Clearly, it represents a significant watering-down of Mark Drakeford’s initial thinking.

Furthermore, Wales cannot fundamentally change the welfare system for its own citizens, under current devolution arrangements. Benefits are controlled from Westminster not Cardiff. At the time of the announcement of the Welsh pilot, a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “We have no plans to introduce a universal basic income. It would not incentivise work, target those most in need in society, or work for those who need more support, such as disabled people and those with caring responsibilities…our approach to welfare recognises the value of supporting people into well paid work, whilst protecting the most vulnerable in society.” It is selectivism writ large.

Another approach would be to provide all households with food vouchers, which could be redeemed at supermarkets and other retail outlets. This was the approach taken during WW2, with rationing.  The administration of such schemes is enormous. Furthermore, it flies in the face of the principles surrounding the introduction of “Universal Credit” (which is neither universal nor credit!). Such voucher schemes have the advantage of connecting income payments directly to specific social need. But they are, often, seen as wasteful, cumbersome and, fundamentally paternalistic, rather than trusting people to spend their own money in the most “appropriate” ways.

Despite the ingenuity and forward-thinking nature of many attempts to introduce basic income – and nothing, to date, on the scale of a national UBI – it is likely to flounder on the bases of cost and Britain’s reticence towards universalistic welfare provision. Perhaps, the most egalitarian and progressive policy would be to introduce a negative income tax, which our system of tax thresholds attempts. Nevertheless, the current Government has brought more people into the higher rate tax bracket than at any time since the 1940s, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, by 2019 (Sandlin, 2019)[6]. Currently, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Government’s own financial adviser, estimates that this will be, officially, the case by 2026 (Timmins, 2022)[7].

So, national policy is, currently, running counter to the principles of basic income. Given this policy backdrop and the current shocks to household income, it is hard to see that UBI, or anything like it, can be seen as a replacement for the, admittedly, shameful requirement for extensive networks of foodbanks across the UK. That is the depressing political economy of Britain in 2022. One which seems to consign ever greater numbers of the poorest to a reliance on handouts, rather than the dignity of having a basic income to live on, which they can spend in the ways that they see fit, mostly on food, heating, rent, clothes and fuel.

 

[1] Morris, S (2021) Wales to launch pilot universal basic income scheme.  Guardian online. 14 May; Winckler, V (2020) Some thoughts on a UBI for Wales.  The Bevan Foundation. 15 June.

[2] Deans, D (2021) Welsh Universal Basic Income pilot could focus on care leavers.  BBC New Online. 17 May.

[3] Harris, J (2020) Why universal basic income could help us fight the next wave of economic shocks. Guardian online. 3 May; Murray, J (2020) Our generation’s NHS: support grows for universal basic income.  Guardian Online. 10 August.

[4] Deacon, A, (1978) The scrounging controversy: public attitudes towards the unemployed in contemporary Britain. Social Policy & Administration, 12, 2, 120-135 ; Becker, S. and MacPherson, S., 1985. Scroungerphobia‐where do we stand”?. Social Work Today18(2), p.85; Littler, J and Williamson, M (2017) Rich TV, poor TV: work, leisure, and the construction of “deserved inequality” in contemporary Britain. In Media and class, pp. 146-159. Abingdon: Routledge; Kaufman, J (2021) States of Imposture: Scroungerphobia and the Choreography of Suspicion. In The Imposter as Social Theory, pp. 171-190. Bristol: Bristol University Press.

[5] Bowman, S (2013) The ideal welfare system is a basic income. Adam Smith Institute blogs. 25 November.

[6] Sandlin, H (2019) Taxes at highest sustained level since 1940s, says IFS | Accountancy Today. 14 November, 2019. [Last accessed: 1 July, 2022].

[7] Timmins, B (2022) Two million more people paying higher rate tax – BBC News. 30 June, 2022. [Last accessed 1 July, 2022].

 

Rights-based approaches in tackling short-term food crisis and ending the need for foodbanks

Feeding Liverpool recently submitted three submissions to the All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into ending the need for foodbanks.  A wide range of opinions have been offered about the best way forward for ending the need for foodbanks – this work will form the foundations for a wider review of our city’s crisis response.

This series of blogs is taken from the Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group submission.

How can rights-based approaches be used to support people facing destitution (for example, a statutory right to food, right to social security)? What role could these approaches play in tackling short-term crises and ending the need for food banks?

Response written by Lucy Antal, Lead for Food Justice, Feedback[1], member of the Good Food Community and Advocacy Policy Group and BBC Food & Farming Awards Community Food Champion 2021.

First Covid-19, and now the cost of living crisis, have highlighted the simple inequity within society at present. Low paid jobs, with zero hours contracts, the complicated universal credit welfare system, and now the bumpy shift to digital for healthy start vouchers has left many households struggling to put food on the table. In a world where energy and transport costs are rising rapidly, and the cost of housing and council tax is also rising by % increments each year, food is often the only “moveable” bit of the household budget. Destitution is often only a missed pay check away (due to illness for example, as statutory sick pay is only £99 a week). The complex bureaucracy behind social security payments means waits of up to 5 weeks for support, so food aid organisations end up providing support.

A rights-based approach, on a cash first basis, creates a breathing space within this maelstrom of outside stressors. Citizens would truly have a safety net if this was enshrined in law. Food is a building block of life and we cannot survive long without it. Enabling or triggering immediate payments gives people agency and choice over their food purchasing and would support community initiatives such as food pantries, where a small fee membership gives access to a wider range of low-priced items. Food banks only work in a short-term capacity, and were indeed created as an emergency response for absolute destitution. They have now become ubiquitous, but the model is not sustainable – see the linked paper which challenges the “win win” scenario of food surplus redistribution becoming the solver of food insecurity[2]. At the same time as the rise of the food bank culture, we have seen a reduction in social spaces and citizen support mechanisms that once provided additional support in times of need. Children’s centres, youth services, older people’s social clubs and work canteens have all been whittled away in the past decade of austerity and public money reductions. Food banks are also not agile when it comes to supporting people with dietary or culturally based requirements, they have a rather workhouse approach of you get what you are given.

When you or your children are hungry, there is no room in your head for anything else. Young people in Blackburn with Darwen ran a campaign called #gettinghangry – which referenced the anger caused by hunger, which led to them being excluded from school on behavioural grounds when in fact they needed a meal. A cash first approach, as championed by IFAN (https://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/cash-first ) and the rights based approach from Ian Byrne MP (https://www.ianbyrne.org/righttofood-campaign) both seek to enable a basic human right of food being available to everyone, regardless of income or location. With over 11M people living in food insecurity, and 7.4M admitting to skipping a meal on a regular basis due to their financial situation, it is past time to consider this option, it needs to be ratified.

 

[1] www.feedbackglobal.org

[2]  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2022.102230

Guest Blog: Boris Johnson – don’t turn your back on children’s health

Beth Bradshaw is a project manager and registered associate nutritionist working at the public health charity Food Active. Beth is currently co-chair of the Good Food Plan Policy and Advocacy Community Group.

 

Over the last two weeks there has been lots of news about the Prime Minister’s decision to delay important policies that are designed to reduce childhood obesity.

It was back in 2018 that the government first announced they were considering introducing measures to take junk food out of the spotlight, by restricting advertising of unhealthy food and drink, and limiting promotions on unhealthy products by price and location in store. They spent a few years talking to the food industry, campaigners, professionals and the public to see what they thought about the plans.

In 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister launched the National Obesity Strategy which officially confirmed that new legislation would come into place. This included:

  • New laws to restrict advertising of unhealthy food and drink products before 9pm on TV, and similar restrictions online including social media (January 2023)
  • New laws to restrict multibuy promotions on unhealthy food and drink. This includes deals such as ‘Buy One Get One Free’ and ‘Buy 3 for 2’ (October 2022)
  • New laws to restrict unhealthy food and drink being placed at key locations in store. This includes the checkout, store entrances and end of aisles (October 2022)

 

Why do we need these laws?

These policies were proposed for a range of reasons:

  • The number of children living with obesity rose last year; new data shows that two in five children in England are now above a healthy weight when they leave primary school.[i] Children with obesity are five times more likely to become adults with obesity,[ii] increasing their risk of developing conditions including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease.
  • Children living in deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be living with obesity than their more affluent counterparts.
  • Reducing obesity is complicated but we know that marketing of unhealthy food and drinks can influence our behaviours.
  • Seeing just one minute of unhealthy food advertising can lead to children eating an additional 14.2 calories.[iii] These prompts, that can lead to eating just a little bit extra every day, can lead to excess weight in children – as it can take as little as 46 additional calories every day.[iv]
  • Multibuy promotions don’t actually save us money; they cause us to spend up to 20% more on products we were not intending to buy and are often unhealthy. So not only are they bad for our pockets, they are bad for our health too.

 

#ChildHealthUTurn

But just a few weeks after the laws had become official UK law, the Prime Minister decided to delay these plans for at least 12 months.

According to reports, the move came amid concerns about the impact the policies could have on the ongoing cost of living crisis. It was also suggested that the government wanted to allow businesses more time to prepare for the new laws.

In response to the first excuse, the government’s own impact assessment found that multibuy promos cause consumers to spend +20%, plus are often found on unhealthy food and drink so are bad for our pockets and our health. Secondly, both marketing and promotions legislation was first proposed in 2018. We believe the food industry has had ample time to prepare and adjust (small businesses are exempt anyway). Obesity levels are continuing to rise. The health inequality gap continues to grow. We believe these important measures simply cannot wait.

 

Who is sticking up for children’s health?

The response to this announcement has been huge and far reaching. Last Friday Jamie Oliver arranged a peaceful #EtonMess protest, attended by members of the Bite Back 2030 youth board calling on the government to reconsider the move.

At Food Active we coordinated a letter to the Prime Minister on behalf of public health directors across the North of England to emphasise the need for these laws to reduce obesity and ‘level up’ the North-South divide when it comes to health inequalities[v].

Liverpool City Council’s very own Director of Public Health Professor Matthew Ashton was one of the directors who supported the letter, and said:

“The National Obesity Strategy, published just under two years ago, held so much promise to help tackle the environmental drivers of obesity, and we welcomed this with open arms. This is why we are so very disappointed to see the sudden change in direction on important policies that we know will help reduce childhood obesity and support efforts to ‘level up’ the significant health inequalities found across the North and South of England.

 

Local areas are working really hard to address these issues but there is only so much we can do without support from National Government. Marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink across TV and online platforms are bombarding our children and we need the government’s help to put an end to this. If the government are truly serious about reducing childhood obesity and levelling up inequalities in health, we ask that they don’t turn their back on the national obesity strategy now.”

 

Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s have also shown the government the food industry are ready for these changes; having both committed to implementing their own restrictions on multibuy deals on unhealthy food and drink in October 2022 despite the delay.

 

How can I get involved?

Want to help support efforts to call on Boris Johnson to reconsider his #ChildHealthUTurn? Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • RT our tweet here
  • RT Bite Back 2030’s youth board’s plea to Boris Johnson here
  • Write to your local MP via Sustain’s e-action here

_________________________

Stay up to date with all the latest Food Active news by subscribing to our mailing list here and to get in touch, see below.

 

[i] NHS Digital (2021) National Child Measurement Programme, England 2020/21 School Year HTTPS://DIGITAL.NHS.UK/DATA-AND-INFORMATION/PUBLICATIONS/STATISTICAL/NATIONAL-CHILD-MEASUREMENT-PROGRAMME/2020-21-SCHOOL-YEAR
[ii] Simmonds M, Llewellyn A, Owen CG, Woolacott N. Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2016 Feb;17(2):95-107.
[iii] Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RM. The effect of screen advertising on children’s dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2019 Apr;20(4):554-568. doi: 10.1111/obr.12812. Epub 2018 Dec 21
[iv] Plachta-Danielzik S, Landsberg B, Bosy-Westphal A, Johannsen M, Lange D, Muller M. Energy gain and energy gap in normalweight children: longitudinal data of the KOPS. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008, 16(4).
[v] Food Active (2022) Public Health Directors Call To Push Through Marketing Restrictions On Less Healthy Food And Drink To Reduce Health Inequalities And Level Up The North Of England HTTPS://FOODACTIVE.ORG.UK/PUBLIC-HEALTH-DIRECTORS-CALL-TO-PUSH-THROUGH-MARKETING-RESTRICTIONS-ON-LESS-HEALTHY-FOOD-AND-DRINK-TO-REDUCE-HEALTH-INEQUALITIES-AND-LEVEL-UP-THE-NORTH-OF-ENGLAND/

“Can we put the lights on?”

By Dr Naomi Maynard Good Food Programme Director with St Andrews Community Network

It’s 8.40, nearly time to open. Members have been queuing outside since 8am having a chat whilst the volunteers have set out the fruit and veg and put the kettle on. I’m at the desk again, computer ready to sign people into the food pantry. But somethings off. It’s raining, and dingy in here today, I can’t quite see the screen. Shouting across to Bill, anther volunteers, I say “can we put the lights on?”

He says no.

You see, the food pantry where I volunteer is in our local church, a beautiful, freezing, Grade 1 listed building. The stain glass windows have holes in them. In the winter it often feels colder in here than outside. It used to cost about £35 each pantry session to heat the building and keep the lights on. Since the energy prices went up, that’s now more like £70.

This scenario is being played out across the country, with voluntary organisations making small cut backs as they too are feeling the pinch. Switching off the heating and lighting (‘but we still want to be welcoming’), volunteers starting to claim for petrol costs to pick up donations, when before they saw it as their gift to the charity.  Little changes, pointing to a bigger crisis: that the charity sector is creaking and it cannot cope with what may be ahead.

Donations at the city’s foodbanks are down at a time when demand is increasingly sharply. Perhaps donations haven’t ever fully picked back up since the pandemic, due to a combination of more people shopping online (and therefore no longer dropping items in supermarket collection point) and an increase in working from home meaning that some office foodbank collections haven’t resumed. As more middle-income families are now feeling the pinch, charities are already reporting cuts to giving, meaning this isn’t likely to get better.

This week, in a survey of foodbanks conducted by the Independent Food Aid Network, 78% reported a drop in food or financial donations in recent months, with over half of these having to dip into their financial reserves to pay for food or vouchers. Will some soon be closing their doors?

Locally, St Andrews Community Network, who run North Liverpool Foodbank and the North Liverpool Your Local Pantry Network are feeling this mismatch in supply and demand. So far this month they have received in 2725kg in food donations, via the Fans Supporting Foodbanks match-day collections, supermarkets and other community donation points. They have given out 4490kg across their networks. They used to have a mountain of baked beans stored up in a warehouse. This has now gone. With the football seasons almost over (a key source of donations) it is going to be a long summer. Fans Supporting Foodbanks have posted a photo of a bare cupboard, appealing for donations. The situation has become unsustainable.

Radical change is needed. And the squeezed charity sector cannot be the answer.

In the next few weeks (not months) we need the government to make some bold decisions – uprating benefits in line with the reality of inflation, reinstating the £20 Universal Credit uplift and an increase in emergency funding for local authorities, would be a start.

But longer term we need more money in people’s pockets, no one should be living off emergency food aid. Everyone in work should be paid at least the Real Living Wage, we need improved working conditions and stable contracts that allow workers to adequately provide for their households (see Zero Hours Justice – a campaign – ZERO HOURS JUSTICE) . We need a stronger benefits safety net and a more generous and fair asylum system. And placed-based solutions which improve access to good food, coupled with an overhaul of our food system being unafraid to produce more food on our own soil.

Many others will have solutions – businesses, academics, policy makers, charities, community activists. Let’s put them into action now. Winter is coming. We cannot delay.

“When do we riot?”

By Dr Naomi Maynard, Good Food Programme Director and Natalie Davies

April Fool’s Day, our kids were late back from their school trip. A blessing really, giving me time to stop and listen. Natalie’s been a good friend for over 3 years, since we were pregnant at the same time with our littlest children and I was new to Everton. Where we live doesn’t have the best statistics, we have the highest Index of Multiple Deprivation score for the city, are one of England’s top ten most economically deprived food deserts, and have significantly more than the national average of children, by reception age, who are obese. New research has also identified our constituency as the least able to withstand the rising cost of living in the UK.  But for us it is home, an area with amazing community, a beautiful view of the city and teachers who champion our kids.

“Over six months of trying and still nothing” Natalie exclaims. She has been trying to switch from her Pre-Payment energy meter to a direct debit energy deal, but none of the major suppliers will have her. “It’s exhausting, they just say ‘we have no-one in your area to do this’ or ‘phone again in a few months’, I want a smart meter and to be on a direct debit. I know this will save me money but what can I do?

“I couldn’t even take up Martin Lewis’ advice to top up our meter as much as we could before the price changes came in at the start of April. I didn’t have anything spare that week to put on, and even if I did my supplier said they’d recoup their losses next time I topped up! What a joke!”

In charity and academic speak, what Natalie is experiencing is called The Poverty Premium – when lower income households are paying more for essential goods or services because the best deals aren’t available to them. This means the impact of price rises aren’t experienced evenly across all pay brackets, unfairly putting significant, avoidable additional pressure on lower-income households trying to keep their heads above water.

Natalie works part-time for the NHS as a cleaner, bringing home just £9.20 a hour. This, coupled with her Universal Credit entitlement, goes quickly once she has paid for rent, council tax, energy, transport to work, food and clothes for her two children. She also is working towards a degree part-time. For Natalie the end of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift in October signalled the end of ‘Funky Fruit Fridays’ where she’d take the kids to the supermarket after school to pick fresh fruits to try over the weekend. She’s worried about the energy prices going up and what it’ll mean she has to cut back on.  Her household budget, like those of so many others, simply doesn’t have many more places it can be cut.

As we chat, my grand phrases about how we can ‘redesign this man-made economy’  and need to ‘ensure those in power know the reality on the ground’ suddenly feel hollow: change just isn’t coming fast enough. Yes, the Chancellor announced additional funds for our council to distribute through the Household Support Fund, and we have the excellent Liverpool Citizens Support Scheme and many charities around who will support households during this crisis. But will this be enough? Is this really the solution? Our lower income households need better wages, a stronger safety net and fair access to the very best deals.

The school bus pulled in, and we were onto the next thing: playtime, dinner, bed. As we parted Natalie threw out the challenge “So, when do we riot?”  Frustration, hopelessness, injustice, outrage spilling out in five short words, spoken with smile.

Why don’t people just make soup?

By Dr. Naomi Maynard, Feeding Liverpool’s Good Food Programme Director

This question “why don’t people just make soup?” gets asked again and again in conversations about how to support people on lower incomes so they can eat good food.

It may seem like a simple solution and eating healthily on a tight budget is certainly possible, but there are hurdles in the way that make this more of a challenge than may first appear to someone who hasn’t experienced this first-hand.

Sarah’s story*, shared more formally as part the House of Lords’ Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food Select Committee Report, and personalised for this blog, highlights why preparing healthy, nutritious meals, particularly for those on the lowest incomes, isn’t as simple as “just make soup”.

Sarah’s a part-time cleaner for the NHS and a mum to three kids ages two, seven, and thirteen. She’s used to buying ready meals for her family; they are easy to prepare (10 minutes in the oven whilst the littlest one runs around her feet), are usually enjoyed by all her children, and are often on deal at her local convenience store.

However, after worrying about how to support her children to eat a varied and healthy diet on her income, she was encouraged by a friendly charity worker to “just make vegetable soup”.

But would her children even like vegetable soup? This was a worry for Sarah, she couldn’t afford for the meal to get wasted.

Sarah didn’t have any recipe books to use, so after difficulties logging online – Sarah can’t afford fast WIFI in her house, and doesn’t have unlimited data on her phone – she managed to find a recipe.

She didn’t have all the ingredients already, and some of the stock and flavourings weren’t available in her local convenience store. This meant a bus trip to a larger store and £4.00 on the return fare with the toddler in tow.

If the ingredients had been sold in Sarah’s local shop, they are likely only to be available in small quantities and therefore decreasing the value for money. A cost of the ingredients of a new meal without a “middle class store cupboard” is estimated at £15.[1]

After reaching the larger store, Sarah had to resist her toddler’s cries “can we get the cheesy pizza! Look mum, ice-cream!” – what’s called Pester Power – and the shiny deals of quicker, simpler meals displayed throughout the store.

When home, Sarah realised she didn’t have all the equipment listed in the recipe to make the soup. She needed weighing scales, knives, a peeler, and a hob, and ideally a blender, although if she boiled the veg for long enough, she could do this with a fork. Sarah also needed the money for the extra gas; this was going to take longer than some of the meals she usually made.

This meant more purchases, which, whilst Sarah knew would pay off in the long run, when budgets are tight there isn’t always money to be able to buy investment items like these.

Following the new recipe itself was a little stressful and certainly time-consuming especially with the fear that if the soup goes wrong, or is unpopular with the rest of the family, or simply doesn’t taste good, her kids may want to eat something else. Meaning she’d have to pay for two meals along with the time, money, and energy spent on the soup having been wasted. If that happened, the remaining ingredients may also go to waste. There was also the worry that her hungry children or her teenager may not feel full having eaten only soup.

Separately, Sarah’s worries and difficulties are not insurmountable. Combined, however, they represent real barriers to accessing good food and a healthy diet. When there are so many easy, cheap, and reliable alternatives available, “just make soup” or similar suggestions can very quickly become an unappealing option.

[1] https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/175/html/

*Whilst Sarah is a fictional character used to personalise the case study written for the House of Lords Select Committee, her experiences echo those we have heard through our work with people with experience of poverty