We are calling for urgent government action as the cost of living crisis worsens and more people are unable to put food on their plates.
The latest survey from the Food Foundation highlights the growing crisis in the UK. Approximately 17.2% of households with children, estimated to include 2.6million children, have experienced food insecurity in the past month.
Approximately 7.3 million adults skipped meals due to the cost-of-living crisis. This shows an increase of 57% since January and the highest levels since the first 2 weeks of the pandemic lockdown in 2020.
The findings come out at the same time as BBC Panorama revealed 18 of the government’s top priority councils for ‘levelling up’ had their bids for the levelling up fund rejected, with Michael Gove saying that ‘the cost-of-living issues that we face at the moment will deepen inequality’.
What should be done to fix this?
Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets or quick fixes. Building a food system that is fair, equal and makes good, healthy food the easy option for everyone is going to take time and long-term solutions are needed. But for so many, time is of the essence. People are struggling now.
It’s times like these where school meals, including free school meals, are more important than ever to support families experiencing food poverty and protect children’s health.
However, free school meals should not be viewed as the answer to a crisis. Rather, school food should be developed to be a cornerstone of the food system. This is the reform we, along with others, are calling for.
A strong and healthy school food system not only supports school children but can also have wider socio-economic and environmental benefits. It has the potential to build a more resilient food system which supports everyone when times are good, but it really shows its worth during more difficult times.
Good food is essential for children to flourish
Food is an essential part of the school day. Only with good food can children have the best opportunity to succeed. And this opportunity should be essential in any kind of government ‘levelling up’ plan.
The vital role of cooks, caterers, kitchen and dining staff must also be adequately recognised and supported by government. This includes implementing an appropriate funding mechanism that covers wages, food and capital costs to help create a good working environment.
Increased uptake of school meals will provide a stable market to supply into and local farmers growing and rearing high quality food must be given fair access to this market. Shortening supply chains and encouraging the use of UK produce in public procurement can also support more resilience in the food system.
Going wider than school food, community food hubs and community food projects also help build resilience. During the pandemic Food for Life’s community food hub research found that many food hubs were agile in their operations. They quickly turned into emergency food providers for the community they had already built strong networks within. Local authorities in particular must value and support local food initiatives.
Solutions in the National Food Strategy
The National Food Strategy provided much of this joined up thinking, making recommendations to overhaul the food system - from extending eligibility criteria for free school meals to ensuring that schools meet School Food Standards. Food for Life has been mentioned several times in the strategy, including the statement "the Government should require all schools to work with accreditation schemes such as Food for Life to improve school food and food education." Read more about how Food for Life compliments the National Food Strategy.
It has been almost three years since part one of the strategy was released and we are still waiting for the white paper response. We urge the government to respond and hope it will provide clear solutions to the current crisis.
Laura Chan, Policy Officer at Soil Association
Want to ensure children have access to healthy food? Learn more about Food for Life.