Written evidence from the Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming CLP0039


Sustain is the alliance for better food and farming. We represent around 100 national food and farming organisations and help to run the Sustainable Food Places Network of over 90 local food partnerships, involving local authorities, civil society and many others in implementing local food strategies; and the London Food Poverty Campaign, championing the ‘Beyond the Food Bank’ approach to local authorities taking practical actions to tackle the root causes of household food insecurity. We have extensive expertise and on-the-ground understanding of the challenges facing communities and possible policy solutions.

In this submission we focus on the first and fourth questions of your inquiry, providing information on whether support payments where sufficient and providing examples of good practice. We will cover:

  1. the role of local food partnerships in advising and administering on Household Support Fund (HSF) payments
  2. the role of national government and Local Authorities in ensuring the payments are administered in a way that do not work against other policy objectives, such as building healthy food environments and turning the tide on obesity
  3. tapping the potential of HSF or similar emergency funding to help actively meet other policy objectives such as supporting local enterprise, economies and regeneration, especially in deprived areas.







What is a food partnership?

A food partnership is a group of local organisations – e.g. a Local Authority public health team, food poverty groups, food businesses – that are interested in building a better food system at a local level. These have been established over the past 10 or so years, with over 80 now part of the national network brought together by Sustainable Food Places (run by Sustain, Food Matters and Soil Association).

They look holistically at food issues by joining up on matters of interest such as health, the environment, food poverty, procurement and food enterprise. They are well placed to respond rapidly in times of crisis, which is one of the reasons we would like to see one in every Local Authority area – a concept supported by Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy and the Government’s own strategy, but not yet acted upon. We believe food partnerships have a fundamental role to play in developing fair and sustainable approaches to building the path out of food poverty and embedding this in local and national policy and practice.

What is the role of a food partnership in the Household Support Fund?

Food partnerships are involved in the HSF in various ways:

1. To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?

A substantial proportion of HSF is being spent on supporting households accessing food. Unfortunately, the food partnerships tell us that too much of the fund is being spent on emergency food aid, an unsustainable approach which channels support way from other, potentially more beneficial, economically sustainable models.

Without a full food security safety net (e.g. housing and energy cost controls; adequate incomes; free school meals; affordable meal delivery services), many people may be receiving inadequate and unhealthy food, undermining public health and widening the health equalities gap

While emergency food aid (the donation of surplus food to people in crisis) can be a welcome and valuable response for very short-term crisis, it should only be directed to meeting very short-term needs.


2. How to ensure payments do not work against other policy objectives?

We recognise the vital and admirable work that emergency food aid providers are doing. However, they are struggling to meet growing need and reporting an exhaustion of volunteers and supplies.

Surplus food is used to relieve hunger and is seen by some as a neat solution to food waste. However, the food partnerships in our network report that surplus is based on what hasn’t been sold and can include too much ultraprocessed and less healthy foods, high in fat, sugar and salt. It can lack nutrition. Relying on surplus food is not a sustainable or reliable supply for emergency food aid provision.

Food aid can not take the place of root-and-branch approaches to addressing household food insecurity e.g. paying the Living Wage, helping households maximise income and manage costs, reducing costs where they can (e.g,. Council Tax relief) and providing a nutritional safety net for vulnerable or young citizens.

Furthermore, the typical model of emergency food aid supported by many local authorities, sometimes with the HSF, can deepen poverty in an area. This is because the local shops miss out on selling food to people living in the neighbourhood. If the focus shifted to putting money into people’s pockets to buy food, and helping local shops to serve healthy and affordable food, that would create a virtuous circle of health and wealth-building. There is a lot that local authorities can do to maximise people’s income, and ensure that the best sorts of food access work are supported locally, as part of what we call ‘Beyond the Food Bank’ approach. Over the past 10 years, Sustain has helped London’s 33 local authorities take action, and we measure progress each year.[1]


Food Carlisle: “Partners have seen increased demand on services due to the cost-of-living crisis. Interim funding support was fully utilised but Partners continue to seek additional financing to support their work on a longer-term basis.  Over the winter period, due to the increased cost-of-living, there have been fewer donations, so services have faced increased costs with having to purchase more expensive food.  Concerns also continue over the quality and quantity of surplus food available.”


How can emergency funding such as the Household Support Fund be used to meet other policy objectives?

Emergency food aid can help meet some policy objectives, eg feed those experiencing hunger. But longer term policy goals could also be met by using the HSF more strategically to help lift people out of poverty and crisis.

Government funding should and, as our case studies below illustrate, has been directed to projects and initiatives that can build community wealth, food enterprises, jobs and livelihoods. While we support that decisions in terms of how to spend the HSF should be left to local authorities who are best placed to identify the communities and households who need support, there should be minimum standards and best practice in terms of how the money is spent so that it actively contributes to healthy food environments and a thriving local economy. We also support maintaining the HSF as a permanent fund to help local authorities supporting their residents with the cost of essentials.

Case study examples: 4. Are there any examples of international best practice in relation to the delivery of emergency cost of living support that the UK can learn from?  

Fortunately, we don’t have to look far and can share examples of good practice right here in the UK. These are brief summaries – more information available on request.


In July 2022, the Minister for Social Justice announced £2.5 million to support the development and strengthening of food partnerships. The fund, created as a response to rising food and energy costs, is designed to help tackle the root-causes of food poverty; develop citizen action; maximise the effectiveness of projects and ensure that resources are targeted at areas of greatest need. Its aim is to support people experiencing food poverty and help reduce and prevent the need for emergency food provision in the longer term. Food Sense Wales (a food partnership) has been supporting the Welsh government to distribute the funds and providing guidance to new and existing partnerships.[2]

East Sussex

During the Covid-19 pandemic, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) used a proportion of Defra’s Local Authority Emergency Assistance Grant for Food and Essential Supplies and additional funding from their Covid-19 recovery programme to fund food partnerships. This funding supports a coordinator in four local food partnerships: Lewes, Hastings & Rother, Wealden and Eastbourne.

As part of the HSF, the local food partnerships have allocated funding to smaller projects tackling food poverty. They gave priority to projects that went beyond food aid and contributed to wider objectives such as building healthy eating skills for life, linking to wraparound services and food growing.

In Lewes, as well as issuing vouchers, the council worked with Lewes District Food Partnership to fund recipe bag projects at food banks, community growing projects and community cafes, as well as funding a slow cooker donation scheme and the purchase of fruit and healthy snacks for young children at a nursery. This meant the funding contributed to local food education, food growing (which in turn has multiple health and social care benefits), home cooking and improving the diets of local children. The council was able to gain insight from the food partnership and opt for a phone service rather than digital which would not have worked due to high levels of exclusion.

In Wealden, the food partnership funded a range of community organisations, farms and growing projects using the HSF. The partnership kept money in the local economy by sourcing food for projects from local farms. Projects funded included activities and healthy food at a holiday activities and food (HAF) programme for children on free school meals; freshly made food being distributed at warm places; locally sourced food boxes distributed at foodbanks, community fridges and to older people; support to farms working with vulnerable children to provide recipe kits for families to cook at home.[3]


The Food Power Alliance and Food Partnership, Middlesbrough Environment City (MEC) developed the Eco Shop model – pop-up social supermarkets that tackle food waste and food insecurity. The shops support customers on their first steps away from food aid/ foodbanks.

More than 30 Eco Shops have been established in the community and in primary schools. MEC and the Eco Shop coordinator were instrumental in moving from aid towards a more financially sustainable model. All of these Eco Shops are still operating today. The council has adopted the Eco Shop model as part of the town’s Covid 19 recovery plan and has directed Household Support Fund funding to the Shop to support residents.

A network established by MEC means the Eco Shops support each other. Eco Shops generate an income to cover the FareShare subscription cost but they are looking for other ways to create income to buy more items, eg running a café utilising not just surplus food but also locally grown and seasonal gluts to provide affordable good food to residents.

Waltham Forest

With funding from HSF, the London Borough of Waltham Forest Council, supported by Sustain, is creating a food partnership and food strategy. They want to target enterprises offering low-cost food, advice and wrap around support for residents or a combination of both. This could include new projects, or existing projects that wish to explore transitioning from free food aid to trading models such as a food pantry or food coop, with the aim of increasing the affordable food offer in Waltham Forest through community-led projects.


The London Borough of Greenwich directs people experiencing food insecurity to emergency payments through HSF or other welfare assistance, relieving local authorities and charities to focus on those most in need. Greenwich works in partnership with GCDA and others  to run healthy and dignified food services that support local ethical food businesses to continue accessing customer markets whilst also serving people in need. Greenwich works with chefs and commercial kitchens to prepare meals and pay them for their services, based on the principle of investment in the local food economy.[4]


May 2023

[1] Good Food for All Londoners 2022: Tracking council action on food | Sustain (sustainweb.org)

[2] Minister for Social Justice announces support for food partnerships across Wales - foodsensewales.org.uk

[3] https://www.sustainablefoodplaces.org/case_studies/1341/

[4] https://www.sustainweb.org/news/apr20_food_for_vulnerable_people_in_covid19_lockdown/