Written evidence submitted by Feeding Liverpool (FS0035)

Feeding Liverpool submission on behalf of Liverpool’s Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group

About this submission

The Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group, was established in May 2022 as part of Liverpool’s Good Food Plan.

Feeding Liverpool is the city of Liverpool’s food alliance, connecting and equipping people and organisations to work towards good food for all.

This response has been compiled by members of the Good Food Community Advocacy and Policy Group, and we would be happy to provide oral evidence if required.

As part of this submission, we would like to submit a recent blog that members of the Community Advocacy and Policy Group have written. We feel this commentary provides some useful discussion points in terms of Government responses to the cost-of-living crisis. Please visit this link: https://foodactive.org.uk/blog-why-scrapping-the-obesity-strategy-wont-solve-the-cost-of-living-crisis-and-protect-low-income-households/

 

 

QUESTION 1: What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

It could be said that the global nature of our food supply chains are part of the problem. As seen during the Covid 19 crisis, the just in time model that has developed within food delivery, based on reducing storage within food retail spaces but increasing the number of daily deliveries, is not agile enough to change when global disruption occurs. The cost of fuel, particularly diesel, is adding to the costs of delivery of food. The centralised model of transporting food from point A to point B in order to redistribute to point C becomes less efficient when fuel costs rise.

Much has been made of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the effect upon the production of sunflower oil, wheat and fertilisers. However, this isn’t necessarily causing the problems we’re seeing this year, these are problems that will hit us next year. The rise in the cost of pasta/ bread flour that we’re seeing now is down to climate change and the destroyed harvests of Canada in 2021 following drought and wildfires. Italy is our main supplier of pasta, and they import flour from Canada, hence the rise in pasta prices in the UK. Food prices have been artificially low for too long, which means there isn’t anywhere to go when global commodities increase in cost.

In the UK we have also created additional problems by carrying through Brexit and removing ourselves from the EU markets and limiting the visa applications of migratory agricultural workers. This has led to labour shortages and thereby food wasted on UK farms. We are not self-sufficient in any case, relying on imports for 40% of our food supply. All of this contributes to the risk of food shortages and price rises.

Inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, which has been compounded by the rise in energy costs, eating up any surplus within the average household budget has consequences for both consumers and businesses.  Consumers are seeking to cut their outgoings, which means that they are paring back on extras such as going out, entertainment etc. For households who were already struggling before the energy price rises, the choice of heat or eat is becoming a reality. A 10% inflation figure equates to an 18% inflationary figure for lower paid workers. Businesses, particularly those in hospitality, are being hit by the energy prices, food price increases and the consumer cut back in spending.

 

QUESTION 2: What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?

Comparison of the cost of basic foods from 2021 to 2022 shows increases of between 10 and 12%. Often this is measured in pence, but the cumulative effect is adding £5 to £10 on the average weekly food shop. Again, this is absorbable for some but not all consumers. Wages and social security payments are not keeping pace with inflation and in the short and medium term, there are no signs of food prices reducing. We can expect the trajectory to continue upwards, with a further increase post October and the energy cost rises. As mentioned in q1, the energy crisis is affecting the costs of transporting and producing food; and the global shortages of wheat and sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine will send buyers from the Middle East and Africa to compete in the commodity markets. We are semi-sufficient in wheat, but the temptation of a free market may lead British farmers to look at supplying other nations for a better profit.

The problem with policy interventions is that they can be knee jerk and short term in scope. As has been long campaigned for, there needs to be proper consideration given to food, with both local and national governing bodies creating a portfolio role for food, instead of allowing it to be divided into silos such as health, tourism and business. Food is central to wellbeing, health and educational aspirations and should be the starting point for the Levelling Up policy actions.

An immediate policy change would be to look again at the provision of free school meals for all children, irrespective of household income. Too many children in poverty are excluded from this support due to the draconian strictures around eligibility. Henry Dimbleby, the lead adviser on the government’s national food strategy, recommended the scheme be extended to all children under 16 living in households earning less than £20,000. This would have cost £544 million a year and would have meant feeding an additional 1.1 million children. Research has shown a significant and immediate effect of diet on behaviour, concentration and cognitive ability. Increasing the provision of quality, healthy school meals in Britain can increase student achievement, by up to 8% in Key Stage 2 in Science, and reduce absenteeism by 15% for all young people. Provision of universal free school meals would ease pressures on familial household budgets and free up income to cope with the cost of food price rises.

Local and central governments should also consider how they could support local food production. Returning to the market gardens of the past that used to supply both urban and rural populations, and the creation of local market spaces to sell food outside the domination of the supermarkets would offer an alternate food supply and access to fresh food that is not currently available to many citizens living in ‘food deserts’. They in particular face additional issues around the food price rises, as they have little agency to choose where they shop.

Labour shortages within the agricultural sector, which accounts for some £120B of our economic value, needs addressing. Poor transport links need improving to get potential workers to the places that need them

Another simple policy change to make could be strengthening the Healthy Start scheme by increasing the value of the vouchers – milk is one item that has seen a significant rise in price because of inflation and is available to purchase on these vouchers. Another barrier for Healthy Start is poor uptake, and another intervention could explore how we can better promote the scheme to eligible families. Locally, Healthy Start figures reflect the national picture, with monthly records showing up-take fluctuating between 59% – 80%. Thousands of eligible people are missing out on Healthy Start - a huge loss to families struggling to cover the rising cost of living. In 2021 in Liverpool an estimated £758,521.24 went unclaimed rather than supporting households with access to good food, milk, and vitamins. After conducting focus groups with health care professionals and families, a lack of awareness of the scheme seems to be a key reason for poor uptake, we’d recommend a national communications campaign to immediately address this, alongside a review to widen the eligibility threshold so more low income families and pregnant women can benefit from this targeted intervention[i].

 

 

QUESTION 3: How are the rising cost of living and increasing food prices affecting access to healthy and nutritious 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 inequalities we already see in this country.

The reality is at present, those who have limited budget to spend on food and drink must 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. The recent Broken Plate report found that more healthy foods are nearly three times as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods[ii].

Conversations with families in Liverpool are also revealing many have switched from purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables to tinned or frozen products.

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, the cost-of-living crisis may be forcing households to reconsider not only the food that they buy, but households may also start to consider modes of food preparation and opting for meals that use up less energy. According to uSwitch, a microwave is the most energy-efficient appliance, followed by a hob and lastly an oven[iii].

With microwaves being the most appealing appliance in terms of energy usage and associated costs, households may start to avoid using ovens and hobs.

Earlier this year, The Guardian reported some food bank users are declining items such as potatoes and other root vegetables as they simply cannot afford the energy to boil them, because of the soaring cost of electricity[iv].

Furthermore, food banks are reporting that users are increasingly requesting products that do not need cooking as the cost-of-living crisis bites deeper and families cannot afford energy bills[v].

Some types of meals require little energy to prepare such as instant foods and ready meals that only require a couple of minutes in the microwave, or instant foods that are prepared simply by adding hot water. However, their nutritional value is often limited, and they often contain few fruit and vegetables, and can also be high in fat, sugar and or salt[vi].

Of course, not all food cooked in the microwave is unhealthy by any means, but the energy crisis may mean that home cooked meals from scratch may be simply off the cards, due to the cost of the energy required on top of the cost of the ingredients, not to mention the time to prepare and convenience.

Some areas are supporting communities by supplying households with a slow cooker, which is a energy efficient appliance and can use up to 60% less energy than an oven.

In Liverpool, Feeding Liverpool, Alchemic Kitchen and chef Adam Franklin have launched the ‘Fed-Up Slow Cooker Training Programme’, teaching practical, communal cooking courses that bring together and equip community members to make delicious, nutritious, low-maintenance meals on a budget, in a friendly atmosphere to help combat loneliness and social isolation[vii].

Being able to afford food is affected by other financial demands on households, and food is often the first expenditure to be cut when disposable income is tight. 25% of parents recently said they have cut back on the quality of food to afford essentials such as energy bills[viii]. Not only will households have to start sacrificing the quality of foods (as per above), but some are being stretched to the point where the quantity becomes an issue. The reality is that many households are skipping meals or providing smaller portions to make ends meet, which means they are experiencing food insecurity.

Data published by the Food Foundation in April found that:

        Rapid 57% jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals altogether in just three months.

        In April, 7.3 million adults live in households that said they had gone without food or could not physically get it in the past month, which include 2.6 million children. This is compared with 4.7 million adults in January.

        12.8% of households (6.8 million adults) have had smaller meals than usual or skipped meals because they couldn't afford or get access to food

        8.8% of households (4.6 million adults) have not eaten despite being hungry because they couldn't afford or get access to food

        4.6% of households (2.4 million adults) have not eaten for a whole day because they couldn't afford or get access to food

Food insecurity is intrinsically linked to adverse health outcomes, especially among children, with increased risks of chronic disease and mental illness later in life[ix]. The likelihood is that these figures will continue to rise as we see further price rises in energy and the cost of living.

 

 

 

 

QUESTION 4: How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:

    1. the resilience of food supply chains?;
    2. the agri-food and seafood sectors?;
    3. access to healthy, nutritious food?

access to healthy, nutritious food

Compared to the ambitious recommendations laid out in the National Food Strategy (which would go a long way to help address issues such as food insecurity, increase access to healthy and nutritious food, and breaking the junk food cycle), the Government’s response fails to measure up in ambition and scale.

The public consultation on buying standards for food and catering was needed, however beyond this there is little that will urgently address the barriers families face in accessing healthy and nutritious food. Furthermore, the paper comes at a time where levels of overweight and obesity are at record highs and is therefore a real missed opportunity.

The Health Disparities White Paper referenced within this document, was expected in July 2022. Whilst we appreciate there must be a period of adjustment for the new administration, the Health Disparities White Paper is now long overdue, action on tackling health disparities is urgently needed. We are very concerned of the reports circulating that the new Health Secretary is planning to scrap the paper altogether, and what this means for tackling inequalities[x]. The cost-of-living crisis is only set to widen the gap between the richest and poorest in our society, so if true we are keen to understand what the Government’s alternative plans are to tackle these inequalities. 

We are also disheartened to hear of plans to scale back proposals set out in the national obesity strategy, following a review ordered by the new Prime Minister. These policies include addressing the marketing and promotion of less healthy food and drink, which would take junk food out of the spotlight and provide more opportunities for healthier products to be advertised. Concrete details on the outcome of the review have yet to be announced by the government, however we are concerned that this move will only further impact the ability of households to access healthy, nutritious food.

We call on the new government to affirm their commitment on reducing obesity and publish the Health Disparities White Paper without further delay.

 

 

 

 

QUESTION 5: Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?

No. According to the food strategy policy paper referenced above, there is an intention for the target of food self-sufficiency to be broadly the same as the current one. The 60% figure refers to certain foods, particularly cereals, meats and some vegetables. If we are to meet carbon reduction targets and other environmental ambitions around animal welfare, reducing usage of chemical fertilisers and a move towards a more plant based diet, we will need to increase our fruit and vegetable production and be more efficient with the food that we do produce.

 

QUESTION 6: How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?

This is an important question that needs further detail. The balance around land use for food production and other goals requires more information - when it comes to food production, are we including things like sugar beet? The area of land used to grow sugar beet is comparable to the area devoted to the production of all UK vegetable crops.

The three compartment model proposed combines intensification, land sharing and land sparing. This may well improve our food security and self-sufficiency, but without the as yet unpublished land use framework, it is impossible to quantify.


[i] https://www.feedingliverpool.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/A-Healthy-Start-For-Liverpool-Executive-Summary-1.pdf

[ii] Food Foundation (2022) The Broken Plate Report: https://foodfoundation.org.uk/publication/broken-plate-2022

[iii] uSwitch (2021). Energy efficient cooking [online] Available at: https://www.uswitch.com/energy-efficiency/energy-efficient-cooking/

[iv] The Guardian (2022) Food bank users declining potatoes as cooking costs too high, says Iceland boss [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/mar/23/food-bank-users-declining-potatoes-as-cooking-costs-too-high-says-iceland-boss

[v] Food Foundation (2022) https://foodfoundation.org.uk/press-release/millions-adults-missing-meals-cost-living-crisis-bites

[vi] NHS (2020). What are processed foods? [online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-processed-foods/

[vii] Feeding Liverpool (2022) Fed Up Slow Cooker Trainer Programme: https://www.feedingliverpool.org/fedup-slowcooker-trainer/

[viii] https://foodfoundation.org.uk/publication/impacts-food-insecurity-and-fuel-poverty-child-health-winter

[ix] Gundersen C, Ziliak JP (2015) Food insecurity and Health outcomes. Health Aff (Millwood) 34, 11, 1830–1839.

[x] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/sep/29/therese-coffey-scraps-promised-paper-on-health-inequality?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other