Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford, Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations at University of Sheffield - written evidence (FPO0041)

 

Summary

  1. In providing written evidence for the Committee’s central question on ‘how to make a healthy, sustainable diet accessible and affordable for everyone’, this submission focuses on three key aspects: charitable responses to hunger; surplus food redistribution as a response to both food waste and hunger; and recommendations for national policy change (speaking to call questions 4, 5, 10, 11 and 15).

 

  1. Charitable responses to hunger (specifically food banks, voluntary breakfast clubs and voluntary holiday hunger projects)
    1. Any comprehensive policy review such as this, which includes looking into hunger responses, would benefit from a clear typology of food assistance. This submission presents a visual representation of such a typology, distinguishing between state and charitable food aid on the one hand and emergency food charity and non-emergency charitable food assistance on the other.
    2. Evidence tells us that while emergency food charity may alleviate symptoms of household food insecurity, they are unable to solve the underlying drivers. Charitable food systems are voluntary, meaning those in need have no entitlement to help, accessibility can vary, and the sustainability of provision is not guaranteed.
    3. Child feeding initiatives including breakfast clubs and holiday hunger programmes raise particular concerns around their reliability, accessibility, accountability, social acceptability and potential to mask underlying drivers of child hunger (namely household poverty and food insecurity). Continued emphasis on feeding projects runs the risk that the household poverty and food insecurity underpinning child hunger is left unaddressed.
    4. Ad hoc projects are therefore highly problematic as a principal response to hunger. Furthermore, continued or increased emphasis on feeding initiatives (of any kind) can perpetuate an interpretation that lack of access to food is a food issue, rather than one of income and the ability to participate in and access the food system.

 

  1. Responses to food waste and connections to food security: surplus food redistribution through food charities.
    1. There is an urgent need for more detailed evidence-based policy discussion around the role of surplus food redistribution for hunger relief purposes and if or how government policy should engage with it.
    2. These kinds of surplus food schemes raise important questions of social justice and concerns over the unreliability and vulnerability of these systems. Ultimately, surplus food redistribution through food charity doesn’t overcome the root causes of either food waste or hunger.

 

  1. Recommendations for approaches to national policy change
    1. People’s ability to access food is an urgent policy issue. Approaching it from a food (system) perspective provides an opportunity for broad thinking and systematic change. However, there is also a danger that such a food perspective leads to policy which emphasises food responses (provision of food, education around food), rather than focusing on the vital role that socio-economic policies – including social security – play in enabling people to access and fully participate in the food system.
    2. Policy looking to make a healthy, sustainable diet accessible and affordable for everyone will need to focus on upstream solutions and will require cross-government commitment.

 

 

 


 

 

Introduction

 

  1. This written submission provides evidence-based reflections and recommendations relevant to the Committee’s central question of ‘how to make a healthy, sustainable diet accessible and affordable for everyone’. In particular, it focuses on Call for Evidence questions relating to responses to hunger (questions 4 and 5) and waste in the food system (11 and 10). It discusses key aspects of the evidence base relating to charitable food systems and the potential future role for food banks, child feeding initiatives (holiday hunger projects and breakfast clubs) and government supported surplus food redistribution initiatives. The submission then goes on to potential future policy changes (call question 15), calling for joined-up and systematic responses.

 

Accessibility and affordability of healthy food: existing responses to hunger (questions 4 and 5)

 

  1. Projects and initiatives helping those with low incomes access food have become increasingly high profile since 2010. Whilst local food projects have long been in existence (McGlone et al 1999), in the last decade the rise of food aid – particularly in the form of food banks – has drawn attention to both the issue of hunger and the systems which have grown in response. The Trussell Trust reported distributing 1.6 million food parcels through their network of 1,200 food bank centres in 2018-2019 (Trussell Trust 2019). At the same time, other state and charity supported initiatives, particularly those aimed at helping children, have also grown. Breakfast club and holiday food provision have expanded across the UK, with support and funding from local authorities and central government. The charity Magic Breakfast helps over 48,000 children and the National School Breakfast programme supports 1775 schools in disadvantaged areas with funding from the Department for Education (Magic Breakfast no date; Family Action no date). In the summer of 2019 the Holiday Activities and Food programme, funded by the Department for Education, promised to provide free food and activities to 50,000 disadvantaged children (DfE 2019).

 

  1. Given the level of provision and support that these initiatives receive, it is important to speak to call questions 4 and 5 – reflecting on what can be learned from charitable responses including food banks, breakfast clubs and holiday hunger programmes; and thinking about what role they should have in the pursuit of a healthy, sustainable and accessible food system.

 

The importance of categorising hunger responses.

  1. In the first instance, any comprehensive policy response would benefit from a clear typology of food assistance. The following diagram (taken from Lambie-Mumford and Silvasti 2020 forthcoming) takes Defra’s 2014 definition of ‘food aid’ as a starting point (see Lambie-Mumford et al 2014).

 

  1. Figure 1: Typology of Food Aid (citation: Lambie-Mumford and Silvasti 2020 forthcoming)

  1. This diagram highlights several key points of distinction within the broad and wide-ranging food aid sector. Beyond distinguishing between state provision and non-state voluntary provision it also differentiates between charitable emergency food provision and non-emergency charitable food assistance.  The key factor here is noting the difference between charitable responses to hunger which aim to meet an acute hunger/lack of access to food crisis (e.g. a food bank), versus a project which provides on-going help with food access, helping hungry or vulnerable people (e.g. a social supermarket or community café).

 

  1. Child-focussed initiatives would fit into various categories. State provision would include free school meals and school snack programmes. Charitable emergency food provision would include for example all food banks which help families with children. Non-emergency charitable food assistance for children would include voluntarily run holiday hunger projects and voluntary breakfast club provision.

 

  1. Developing a typology such as this will be important for future policy making. It will facilitate better understanding of what we mean when we talk about different hunger responses and assist critical policy thinking around the advantages, disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses of different types of programmes and the various models therein.

 

What can be learnt from charitable responses to hunger?

  1. There is an ever-growing evidence base relating in particular to food banks, but also other charitable responses to hunger. Food charities themselves provide data (Trussell Trust 2019) and important research has been done looking at who uses food banks and why (Loopstra and Lalor 2017). This submission focuses on evidence relating to food charity systems as a whole and highlights some of the key policy implications of these structures.

 

  1. Charitable food programmes can be important spaces of care and solidarity and the proliferation of these initiatives over the last ten years is a striking representation of the charitable sector taking responsibility in practice for acute household food insecurity. However, evidence tells us that while they may (when designed and managed appropriately) alleviate symptoms of household food insecurity, they are necessarily unable to solve the underlying drivers (Lambie-Mumford et al 2014). In particular, the socioeconomic structures which drive experiences of food insecurity, for example those related to economic security including costs of living, income levels and income security (De Marco and Thorburn, 2009; Coleman-Jensen, 2011; Kirkpatrick and Tarasuk, 2011). Furthermore, from the perspective of policy seeking to make the food system fairer and more accessible, evidence highlights the challenges that the rise of food charity poses and the dangers of relying on charitable food systems as a principal response to hunger (Lambie-Mumford 2017).

 

  1. Charitable food systems are voluntary, meaning they can be unreliable for those in need and vulnerable in terms of the sustainability of provision. Given their voluntary nature, people in need do not have entitlements to access this provision, nor do they have rights within these systems. Their ad hoc nature means that food charity provision cannot be guaranteed, nor is it universal or accessible to all. While maps highlighting the widespread geographical coverage of food banks suggests extensive accessibility and availability, as recent research on the operational characteristics of food banks has shown, the presence of a project tells us little about when it is open or who is able to access it (Loopstra et al 2019).

 

  1. The development of charitable food systems outside of the primary food market and social norm for accessing food also presents issues for policy aimed at inclusive food systems. Despite significant efforts on the part of charities to create supportive and caring atmospheres in projects, evidence continues to suggest that recipients experience shame and stigma (Lambie-Mumford 2017, Garthwaite 2016). The reliability and sustainability of food charity systems in terms of obtaining and distributing sufficient food is also questionable. These systems interact in important ways with the wider food retail systems and their practice is shaped by factors including the availability of food from large retailers and their customers (through for example redistribution within their supply chains and national food drives) (Lambie-Mumford 2017).

 

  1. Child feeding initiatives including breakfast clubs and holiday hunger programmes raise concerns around their reliability, accessibility, accountability, social acceptability and potential to mask underlying drivers of child hunger (namely household poverty and food insecurity). Child feeding projects are not always accessible; published literature suggests  that  availability,  capacity  and  opening  hours  can  all  vary,  and  costs  of  breakfast clubs can be a barrier for the poorest children  (see review in Lambie-Mumford and Sims 2018a and 2018b). The reliability of breakfast and holiday hunger club provision can also be an issue, when clubs do not run continuously over time. The accountability of breakfast and holiday hunger provision is also questionable, given that it is provided on a voluntary basis by communities and schools and not overseen nationally. Urgent questions are also raised about the social acceptability of this provision to children. Particularly if they are targeted at ‘hungry’ young people, there are significant implications for children’s experiences of social exclusion, embarrassment and stigma all of which are acutely felt by children. Crucially, Evidence tells us that children’s experiences are intimately linked to the experiences of their family and caregivers. Continued emphasis on feeding projects runs the risk that the household poverty and food insecurity underpinning child hunger is left unaddressed.

 

  1. More evidence is required in the case of child feeding programmes including breakfast clubs and holiday hunger programmes. Whilst there are increasing amounts of evidence on food banks, the evidence base on these kinds of child focussed projects remains patchy, limited and mixed in terms of both findings and the scope of the underpinning research (Lambie-Mumford and Sims 2018). From available evidence on operational aspects of breakfast club and holiday hunger provision, it remains unclear exactly what the extent and nature of provision really is in the UK today and evidence on the outcomes of these projects is also far from conclusive.

 

What role should charitable responses to hunger play?

 

  1. Food charity systems – and the scale on which they have come to operate – are a striking display of the charitable sector responding to needs in local communities. Yet when the question is one of how to make healthy food affordable and accessible to all, food charity systems are problematic as a principal response to hunger. By their nature, these responses to the symptoms of household food insecurity are not able to address the root causes of a lack of access to food. They form vulnerable ad hoc systems which necessarily cannot be relied upon to meet the needs of everyone. The lack of reliability and accessibility are key concerns when looking at how to ensure accessibility of food for all. This is even more important when it comes to child-focussed programmes, where the lack of universality and accountability in these systems are critical issues.

 

  1. In pursuit of a healthy, sustainable diet which is accessible and affordable for everyone, a key recommendation of this evidence submission would therefore be for policy frameworks which move away from the ever-increasing reliance on food charity responses to hunger. Increasing emphasis on crisis food responses facilitates the impression that lack of access to food is a ‘food’ issue, resolved by the giving of food; rather than an issue of income and accessibility (see also Tarasuk 2001). Instead, focus should be on the underpinning drivers of household food insecurity and ensuring everyone is able to afford to participate in and access the food system. Where hunger responses may be required, standards of reliability, entitlement and universality – lacking in the charitable food system – would be required, examining in particular the adequacy of the social security system, as part of any policy response pursuing a healthy, fair and sustainable food system.

 

Sustainability of the food system: responses to food waste (questions 11 and 10)

 

  1. Questions of the environmental and social sustainability of the food system are not always easily discussed together; discussions of the issue of access to food are often held in separate spheres to those about the environmental impacts of food production. An important exception is found in the issue of surplus food redistribution which holds both environmental and social issues in tension and has proved to be emotive and contentious. Whilst on the one hand, the idea of saving food from going to waste at the same time as meeting acute or chronic hunger is celebrated, on the other it is criticised on the basis of social and environmental justice. The existence of this debate, and the fact that Defra have announced £15million of funding to save waste and facilitate food redistribution, including through food charities (Gov.uk 2018), highlights the urgent need for more detailed policy discussion around the role of surplus food redistribution and if/how government policy should engage with it.

 

  1. This part of the submission will therefore focus on questions 10 and 11 in relation to surplus food redistribution – exploring surplus food redistribution as an effort to improve food production sustainability and whether it can simultaneously offer solutions to improving food insecurity.

 

  1. This submission focuses in particular on surplus food redistribution through food charities aimed specifically at helping those experiencing hunger; not on the increasing variety of surplus redistribution projects which are in existence, taking various forms and open to a wide range of people. Previous research has drawn attention to the vulnerability and unreliability that can be inherent in these surplus food-food charity systems as a response to hunger and the problems this can create for food charities in receipt of surplus food (Lambie-Mumford 2017). For example, the exact type and quantities of food can vary, making it hard for food charities to plan or feel confident in what they will be able to provide for people in need. Receipt of surplus food through emergency food charities because of a lack of access to the food system can also be stigmatising and exclusionary (Riches 2011).

 

  1. Importantly as well, surplus food redistribution through food charity schemes doesn’t overcome the root causes of either food waste or hunger. And where redistribution becomes embedded, it can further institutionalise food charity systems, with all their vulnerabilities as outlined above. Where policies are in place to facilitate surplus food redistribution this may also serve to further embed food charity systems, as these food redistribution systems become more established over time (Lambie-Mumford and Silvasti 2020 forthcoming).

 

The role of policy in promoting accessibility and sustainability (question 15)

 

  1. In the face of rising need for charitable food assistance and urgent environmental considerations, we are at an important juncture. In terms of access to a healthy and sustainable diet, policy decisions taken now can either help address hunger and the need for food charity or further embed systems of charitable feeding and food crisis response. Approaching the question of access to food from the perspective of the food system has the potential to facilitate broad and ambitious thinking which could link the disparate parts of government work on food, income and health which are of relevance. However, there is also a significant danger that a food system perspective could lead to policy which emphasises food responses, rather than focusing on the vital importance of systematic, fair and sustainable socio-economic policies and the vital role they play in enabling people to access and fully participate in the food system.

 

  1. Policy looking to make a healthy, sustainable diet accessible and affordable for everyone will need to focus on upstream solutions and will require cross-government commitment. An effective strategy for ensuring everyone is able to afford to participate in and access such a food system would need to involve making connections to the relevant parts of national, devolved and local government which currently operate in relevant areas and pushing for more systematic and co-ordinated policy responses (Church Action on Poverty and Lambie-Mumford 2018). For example, working with DWP on the adequacy of social security to ensure people have enough money to afford food, working with Defra on future farming and retail policy, working with DfE on pursuing extended schools policies and exploring the adequacy of free school meals to promote accessibility of good food for all children throughout and around the school day. As well as exploring the ongoing work of the Welsh and Scottish Governments in the area of improving access to food and responding to hunger (Church Action on Poverty and Lambie-Mumford 2018).

 


 

References

Church Action on Poverty and Lambie-Mumford, H. (2018) Step up to the plate towards a UK food and poverty strategywww.churchpoverty.org.uk/endhunger, ISBN 978-1-9999669-0-4

Coleman-Jensen, A. (2011) ‘Working for peanuts: non-standard work and food insecurity across household structure’, Journal of Family and Economic Issues 32(1): 84–97.

De Marco, M. and Thorburn, S. (2009) ‘The relationship between income and food insecurity among Oregon residents: does social support matter?’, Public Health Nutrition 12(11): 2104–2112.

Department for Education (DfE) (2019) Free meals and activities for 50,000 children over 2019 summer holidays, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/free-meals-and-activities-for-50000-children-over-2019-summer-holidays

Family Action (no date) National School Breakfast Programme, https://www.family-action.org.uk/what-we-do/children-families/breakfast/

Garthwaite, K (2016) Stigma, shame and 'people like us': an ethnographic study of foodbank use in the UK, Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, Volume 24, Number 3, October 2016, pp. 277-289(13)

Gov.uk (2018) Action to reduce food waste announced, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/action-to-reduce-food-waste-announced

Kirkpatrick, S.I. and Tarasuk, V. (2011) ‘Housing circumstances are associated with household food access among low-income urban families’, Journal of Urban Health 88(2): 284–296.

Lambie- Mumford, H., Crossley, D., Jensen, E., Verbeke, M. and Dowler., E. (2014) Household food security: A review of food aid by H (London: Defra, 2014) [Accessed 2 November 2017] www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-aid-research-report

Lambie-Mumford, H. (2017) Hungry Britain: The rise of food charity. Bristol: Policy Press.

Lambie-Mumford, H. and Silvasti., T. (2020 forthcoming) ‘Conclusion: food charity in Europe’, in Lambie-Mumford, H. and Silvasti, T. (Eds) The Rise of Food Charity in Europe, Policy Press: Bristol

Lambie-Mumford, H. and Simms, L. (2018a) Children’s Experiences of food and poverty, Speri British Political Economy Brief No. 31,  http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/SPERI-Brief-31-Children%E2%80%99s-experiences-of-food-and-poverty.pdf

Lambie-Mumford, H. and Simms, L. (2018b) ‘Feeding Hungry Children’: The Growth of Charitable Breakfast Clubs and Holiday Hunger Projects in the UK, Children and Society, 32, 244–254,  DOI:10.1111/chso.12272

Loopstra, R. and Lalor, D. (2017) Financial insecurity, food insecurity, and disability:The profile of people receiving emergency food assistance from The Trussell Trust Foodbank Network in Britain, Oxford University, https://trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/06/OU_Report_final_01_08_online.pdf

Loopstra, R., Lambie-Mumford, H., Fledderjohann, J. (2019) Food bank operational characteristics and rates of food bank use across Britain, BMC Public Health, volume 19, Article number: 561

Magic Breakfast (no date) What we do, https://www.magicbreakfast.com/what-the-charity-does

McGlone, P., Dobson, B., Dowler, E. and Nelson, M. (1999) Food projects and how they work. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Tarasuk, V. (2001) ‘A critical examination of community-based responses to household food insecurity in Canada’, Health Education & Behavior 28(4): 487–499.

Trussell Trust (2019) Record 1.6m food bank parcels given to people in past year as the Trussell Trust calls for end to Universal Credit five week wait, https://www.trusselltrust.org/2019/04/25/record-1-6m-food-bank-parcels/

 

Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford, Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield (writing in an individual capacity)

 

12 September 2019