LACA – Written evidence (FPO0048)
- LACA is the representative body for the school food sector across England, Scotland and Wales. Their members serve 3 million school meals a day to 23,000 schools and represent school chefs, school caterers and local authorities. The school food industry employs around 100,000 people, all of whom are committed to serving hot, healthy and nutritious lunches to children.
1) What are the key causes of food insecurity in the UK? Can you outline any significant trends in food insecurity in the UK? To what extent (and why) have these challenges persisted over a number of years?
- Two key reasons for food insecurity include changes to the benefits system alongside a lack of knowledge and skills and easy access to information and advice on food and nutrition:
- Universal credit and changes to the benefits system, resulting in less money to spend on food, is believe to have led to the most deprived children and adults in society purchasing low cost foods and drinks, which are generally unhealthier. The increase in the use of food banks too are a clear indicator, where the selection of food is limited to whatever is available, although food banks provide an essential service they are providing food that tends to be unhealthy.
- Lack of skills and knowledge of how to cook, in particular how to cook healthy meals, has also led to the over reliance on ready meals and fast food options. This could be as a result in a generational change with fewer people having studied food based topics in schools in the last 20-25 years, and food tech lessons increasingly being focused on study of food companies, marketing etc rather than cookery and nutrition.
2) What are some of the key ways in which diet (including food insecurity) impacts on public health? Has sufficient progress been made on tackling childhood obesity and, if not, why not?
- Bad diet has led to an increase in obesity levels alongside preventable diseases such as diabetes. There are many reasons for this, such as poor nutrition at home, and parents who are not educated on how to provide a healthy diet. Reliance on unhealthy convenience food (Often with hidden high sugar content and with low fat options often containing high sugar and salt to enhance flavour) either due to being time poor, financially poor or not having the skills required to provide healthy food also contributes.
- There has been some progress in tackling childhood obesity, but much more still needs to be done. Good practice can be seen with the example of Leeds and the Henry project (who became the first city in the UK to report a drop in childhood obesity after introducing a programme to help parents set boundaries for their children and say no to sweets and junk foods), but there needs to be the resources available to support schemes like those in Leeds to be rolled out across the whole country.
- The positive outcomes of Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) have been highlighted, such as in the EPI report on the evaluation of UIFSM, but in order for this policy to be truly effective it needs to be extended to KS2 and it needs to be mandatory, as it is in other countries such as Sweden, Finland and Estonia.
- Funding should only be provided to schools who are wiling to be monitored for compliance with the school food standards. The school food standards introduced in 2014, limit the amount of salt, sugar and fat served in schools and should be mandatory in all schools including academies.
- In conjunction with this, there needs to be engagement with parents through schools via cooking lessons, and the opportunity to have free cookery clubs to learn how to cook and eat healthily on a budget.
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?
- Healthy food is not currently accessible for everyone. Three factors make it harder for people to have a healthy diet:
- Time needed for food preparation
- Lack of education and skills about how to cook healthy foods
- Portion control
- We also know that there is clear evidence of the link between areas of higher deprivation and unhealthy diets as evidences in several studies, including “Socioeconomic inequalities in childhood and adolescent body-mass index, weight, and height from 1953 to 2015: an analysis of four longitudinal, observational, British birth cohort studies” from Bann et all 2018, and “Food Poverty and dietary quality is there a relationship” Harrington et all 2009.
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)?
- With reduced budgets there is a limit to how much Local Authorities can do. There are lots of good schemes including the social eating spaces, holiday hunger provisions, exercise and learning sessions, and local community garden projects that grow healthy food produce. However, not every Local Authority has enough funding to provide such schemes.
- New ring fenced funding for Local Authorities is required. Every Local Authority should have their own food strategy based on the national one but localised to the challenges they face, which should include schemes to educate the whole family on food and health.
- Working partnerships with the NHS to ensure that people of all ages are better educated about food and the role it plays in maintaining their health is also essential. Links between NHS, PHE and DfE underpinning the provision of healthy school food with local interventions such as cookery clubs being supported by multiple agencies is essential.
5) What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?
- Food banks are not the answer. Although they are providing an unfortunately necessarily service, they only serve a short term purpose for those waiting for benefit payments.
- There should be more emphasis on how to cook and eat well on a budget, and create programmes such as a coupon scheme that enables the purchase of healthy ingredients at a reduced price. Supermarkets must be made responsible for supporting these initiatives, as they have played a significant part in the obesity issues, for example 2 for 1 deals on unhealthy foods at checkouts.
6) What impact do food production processes (including product formulation, portion size, packaging and labelling) have on consumers dietary choices and does this differ across income groups?
- Food production processes have significant influence, as many consumers want the most amount of food for the lowest price. Multi pack and 2 for 1 offers are swaying consumers to buy unhealthy but filling and high quantitity products.
- Portion sizes are getting bigger and many prepacked convenience foods are extremely high in fat, sugar and salt. If ready meals are here to stay, the government need to pass legislation restricting these contents.
- There needs to be further government action on labelling with simpler and clearer labels for less healthy foods.
7) What impact do food outlets (including supermarkets, delivery services, or fast food outlets) have on the average UK diet? How important are factors such as advertising, packaging, or product placement in influencing consumer choice, particularly for those in lower income groups?
- They have a huge impact on influencing consumer choice and the opportunity for sponsorship deals incentivises food outlets to promote unhealthy food.
- Food outlets often discount ready-made and unhealthy items and not fresh healthy products, meaning that consumers are drawn to the unhealthy choices.
8) Do you have any comment to make on how the food industry might be encouraged to do more to support or promote healthy and sustainable diets? Is Government regulation an effective driver of change in this respect?
- Industry has been slow to make changes without regulation, so it would be more effective if government introduced legislation such as they have done with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy for example. Government regulation would be the only way to ensure all industry sectors are working towards the same goals, i.e. supporting a healthy diet.
9) To what extent is it possible for the UK to be self-sufficient in producing healthy, affordable food that supports good population health, in a way that is also environmentally sustainable?
- Given year round consumer demand for unseasonal produce LACA do not think the UK could be self-sufficient. However increasing the demand for local produce would be beneficial. If real investment was put into farming to support poly tunnels, hydroponics etc and the use of more urban growing spaces, we could be more so.
10) Can efforts to improve food production sustainability simultaneously offer solutions to improving food insecurity and dietary health in the UK?
- Yes, if the supply was sufficient and the price was reduced due to a reduction or removal of tariffs, then this would help. However this would need to be matched with other initiatives suggested above and all sectors in the industry working together.
11) How effective are any current measures operated or assisted by Government, local authorities, or others to minimise food waste? What further action is required to minimise food waste?
- Most public sector operations are already reducing food waste. More focus is needed for consumers, providing skills such as what food to keep in store cupboards, how to freeze and re-heat foods safely, batch cooking etc.
- There is little food production waste in the school food sector. However pre-ordering would reduce this further in schools as they do in hospitals. LACA currently supports intatives such as WRAP’s Guaridans of the Grub campaign that aims to tackle the £3 billion of food thrown away at hospitality and food service outlets.
12) A Public Health England report has concluded that “considerable and largely unprecedented” dietary shifts are required to meet Government guidance on healthy diets. What policy approaches (for example, fiscal or regulatory measures, voluntary guidelines, or attempts to change individual or population behaviour through information and education) would most effectively enable this? What role could public procurement play in improving dietary behaviours?
- We have excellent food standards in the various sectors of the school food industry however there need to be independent monitoring of the meals actually being provided by contractors – without monitoring, standards will be bypassed or ignored to ensure profits for commercial operations.
- Alongside this we recommend:
- Engagement with families through schools to improve knowledge and understanding
- Technical solutions such as the promotion of apps to support knowledge of what to buy and what is in it
- Mandatory regulations for food manufactures
- Compulsory sign up to government buying standards for any provider supplying catering services into public sector services
13) Has sufficient research been conducted to provide a robust analysis of the links between poverty, food insecurity, health inequalities and the sustainability of food production? How well is existing research on the impact of existing food policy used to inform decision making?
- More research is needed across all income groups, as there are different drivers for different groups. Research carried out by Professor Greta Defeyter at the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University is a good example of how cross societal research has been taken on breakfast clubs and holiday hunger.
14) What can the UK learn from food policy in other countries? Are there examples of strategies which have improved access and affordability of healthy, sustainable food across income groups?
- Other European countries still tend to cook more locally grown food and promote regional buying. Scandinavian school food programmes are impressive such as in Sweden where the Swedish government offers free healthy school meals, five days a week, for primary and secondary schools and Italy where they recently proposed a ban on packed lunches.
15) Are there any additional changes at a national policy level that would help to ensure efforts to improve food insecurity and poor diet, and its impact on public health and the environment, are effectively coordinated, implemented and monitored?
- LACA proposes the following:
- Place restrictions of fat, sugar and salt on fast food outlets to ensure that they produce healthier products
- Place restrictions on food manufacturers and supermarkets to reduce sugar and fat in their products and ensure that portion sizes are balanced and healthy
- Set up farming and agriculture policy that is properly funded to ensure that we grow as much as we can, rather than import, making fresh fruit and vegetables, quality meat etc accessible to all
- Give local authorities powers to refuse (and not fear of challenging) planning for fast food restaurants, especially near schools
- Extend universal infant free school meals to all KS2 and KS3 pupils
- Increase financial support to local authorities to formulate a combined approach to health and nutrition education
- Enforcement and monitoring of the School Food Standards across all schools including academies and free schools, inclusion of the school food offer and food education programmes into Ofsted inspections
- More collaborative working with other stakeholders such as schools, the NHS and the public
12 September 2019