3. How accessible is healthy food? What factors or barriers affect people’s ability to consume a healthy diet? Do these factors affect populations living in rural and urban areas differently?
3.1. Low wages and high living costs
Good quality, nutritious and affordable food has become increasingly inaccessible for many households. One of the main barriers is slowed waged growth coupled with rising living costs. Income after housing costs fell 10.7% nationally between 2002-03 and 2016-17. Over the same period of time, food prices (in real terms) increased by 4.3%. An increase in food prices is harder for low-income households to cope with, as it represents a greater proportion of their overall income. Therefore, a rise in food prices (in real terms) has a significant impact on money available for low-income households to spend on healthy food.
3.2. Lack of affordable and healthy food outlets
Another barrier affecting people’s ability to maintain a healthy diet is the lack of physical access to affordable and healthy food options in many areas of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Through our Food Poverty Needs Assessment conducted in 2016, we found areas of the Borough which are ‘coldspots’ – poorly connected areas that are over a ten minute walk from affordable supermarkets and fresh fruit and vegetable stalls. Moreover, these areas often have limited transport links, particularly considering they are part of London and are urban areas. Meaning that it is not necessarily easy and can become expensive to travel to access affordable food options.
A shopping basket study (comparison of costs of key items) in the Needs Assessment found that the average weekly shop in ‘coldspot’ areas was more expensive than a weekly shop in an area with a larger supermarket. This leaves many people with the choice of paying more for food to shop close by or paying less for food but needing to travel.
In addition, the Needs Assessment found that these ‘coldspots’ also had high volumes of less healthy (and cheap) food outlets, such as fried chicken shops. Therefore, even though access to affordable healthy food is limited, there are cheap and leas healthy options available.
3.3. Education and budgeting
Also identified as a barrier affecting people’s ability to eat healthy food by the Needs Assessment, is a lack of education around what constitutes healthy eating and the ability to budget correctly to support a healthy diet.
3.4. Key areas of focus
Specifically, in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, poor access to healthy and affordable food is driven by physical access to healthy food, increased costs and limited education and budgeting skills.
Interviews with residents and frontline workers revealed that many households in this situation skip meals, buy cheaper and less nutritious food (fast food, sweets and starchy foods) and/or sacrifice their heating or other household expenses. For further detail, please see the full Needs Assessment.
4. What role can local authorities play in promoting healthy eating in their local populations, especially among children and young people, and those on lower incomes? How effectively are local authorities able to fulfil their responsibilities to improve the health of people living in their areas? Are you aware of any existing local authority or education initiatives that have been particularly successful (for example, schemes around holiday hunger, providing information on healthy eating, or supporting access to sport and exercise)?
4.1. Local authorities have the potential to play a key role in promoting healthy and affordable eating in their local areas. They are well positioned to act as a main point of contact and hub in their communities, particularly for children, young people, those on low-incomes and other vulnerable groups. This is both through frontline advice services (e.g. Welfare Rights service) and as through libraries, community centres, children’s centres and leisure services. In addition, local authorities also act as an organising link for the Borough’s voluntary and community sector organisations, which play an important role in promoting healthy eating.
4.2. Given the relationships and spaces within the community, local authorities are often best placed to coordinate and support services and projects that are related to healthy and affordable eating.
4.3. In response to increasing need, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is supporting a holiday meal programme, which is aimed at children who usually receive free school meals.
4.4. The Council has expanded holiday meals provision to include community centres, children centres, adventure playgrounds, youth clubs and a library, with over 8,000 meals offered throughout the year during school holidays. The expanded scheme is being monitored and evaluated by attendance levels and meal satisfaction. Some centres have seen attendance levels of up to 68 children, which highlights the need for schemes such as this to exist.
4.5. The Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency is commissioned to deliver this service. Working with this organisation has a number of added benefits, such as engaging local volunteers who are trained to cook and deliver nutritional education and their use of surplus food from the food waste organisation FareShare.
4.6. In addition to our holiday meals scheme, we also run other schemes aimed at promoting healthy eating and reducing food poverty, such as community meals and cookery clubs.
4.7. This holiday meals scheme is becoming more and more necessary. However, with continuing budget cuts to local authorities, it is becoming harder to effectively deliver vital schemes such as holiday meals. Due to pressure on funding received from central government, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is seeking sponsorship opportunities with businesses in our Borough to support the continuation of the holiday meals scheme.
Royal Borough of Greenwich Council
11 September 2019
 Office for National Statistics (ONS) Food Statistics in your pocket 2017: Prices and expenditure (2018)
 Royal Borough of Greenwich Food Poverty Needs Assessment (2016) https://greenwichfairnesscommission.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/rbg-food-poverty-needs-assessment-report-public-health.pdf