Greater Manchester Poverty Action – Written evidence (FPO0049)
Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA) is a not-for-profit organisation based in Greater Manchester that works to address poverty across the city region. We convene and network organisations from across the public, private and VCSE sectors to foster collaboration and innovation and to maximise the impact of efforts to address hardship and deprivation across Greater Manchester. We carry out research and we campaign for changes in policy both locally and nationally so that the structural and systematic causes of poverty are addressed.
We convened the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance in May 2018, and continue to coordinate it. It is made up of over 100 people and organisations who are active on food poverty and insecurity in our city region. Together we wrote the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Action Plan, and launched it in March 2019 www.gmpovertyaction.org/food-poverty-action-plan
The Action Plan describe how we should work together (and in many cases, already are working together) at the local level to help address food poverty. However, the Plan recognises that the power we have to address poverty at the local level is limited, and that many of the levers such as the welfare system, minimum wages, pensions, and funding for local authorities and public health, are held at the national level. We need wholehearted and strategic support at the national level for ending food insecurity, by addressing the underlying causes of poverty as well as improving access to good food.
In the response below we have responded to questions 1-5 and question 15 of the Committee’s Call for Evidence, and will be happy to discuss any of the points in this submission further.
- 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?
- Interviews with people experiencing poverty in Greater Manchester give great insight into the experience and some of the cause of food insecurity:
- ‘I like to try to cook from scratch but there is no way you can afford all the fresh ingredients.’
- ‘I always have to cut back on food because of rent and bills. I mean it’s important to get your rent and bills paid… By the time I’ve paid my bills, I’m left with £20 a week for food.’
- ‘The easy option is junk food, you know microwaveable meals, they are cheap and convenient. If you don’t have the money the only thing you have got is the cheaper option.’[i]
- ‘There were times we went without food, once we didn’t eat for three days, the benefits were not enough to support us. It was a vicious circle. To keep my bones strong and healthy I needed a healthy diet, but I couldn’t afford a healthy diet, so my condition got worse. We wouldn’t have survived without food banks. The benefits system should have been better.’[ii]
- As Dr Mags Adams who chaired our investigation into the causes of food insecurity in Greater Manchester wrote in November 2018, “Food insecurity in the UK is on the rise as evidenced by the increased use of food banks across the country[iii] and the increasing number of deaths from malnutrition (up by more than 30% between 2007 and 2016[iv]). At a time when Greater Manchester is performing well economically in terms of job creation and private sector business growth, low pay and low skills mean many people are not benefiting from the region’s success; median full-time wages are £50 per week lower in Greater Manchester (£494) than they are nationally (£545), and 23% of workers are paid below the voluntary Living Wage[v]. Universal Credit was piloted in Tameside in Greater Manchester before being rolled out to Oldham and further afield. It has been highly criticised due to effects on housing rights, evictions and homelessness[vi]. In October 2017 it was reported that 80% of claimants in some housing associations had fallen behind with rent because of delays in receiving their payments[vii]. This new benefit has an inbuilt six-week delay in receiving payments, allegedly to mirror being paid monthly in the workplace (However, it should be noted than many of those earning under £10,000 per annum are actually paid weekly)[viii]. In reality delays of ten and twelve weeks are not uncommon before payments are received[ix]. Many additional factors are also at play in determining why people experience food poverty. For example, food prices fluctuate, the UK is a net importer of food and the fall in the pound since the EU referendum has pushed the cost of living upwards . Furthermore, housing prices are disproportionately higher than in other European countries. Child poverty in Manchester is one of the highest rates by local authority area; 35.5% of children under 16 live in poverty with 69.4% of them living in workless households . Many people living in poverty are in part-time and low paid work.”
- Dr Charlie Spring who led our investigation into how we can measure food insecurity and monitor the impact of our interventions, carried out research in Tameside which also “highlighted that benefit changes, whether to disability or UC switch, were resulting in lower incomes overall, and not just payment delays”. She adds that “Poor mental/physical health, challenges with immigration status, physical access to shops and caring responsibilities also came up in peoples descriptions of food insecurity.”
- 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?
- People on lower incomes generally consume less protein, iron, fruit and vegetables, vitamin C, calcium, fish and folate, which are commonly more expensive than low-nutrient foods. People on lower incomes also generally eat more processed foods, which are high in saturated fats and salt, and consume more added sugars[x].
- The NHS spends £29bn spent on poverty-related health conditions, with poor diet contributing to diabetes, cancer, cardio-vascular disease, and obesity as well as malnutrition. Food insecurity has also been associated with increased falls and fractures in older people, while birth-weights in the most deprived areas are on average 200g lower than in the richest.[xi]
- From Dr Charlie Spring’s research in Tameside “one mum described how her drop in income following disability meant switching from fresh produce to relying on end-of-day discounts and a weekly pantry shop, resulting in flare-up of skin problems and need for antibiotics.”
- 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?
- First and foremost, the challenge to accessing healthy food is low income and other forms of poverty and disadvantage. Only when people and families can afford a decent standard of living will their access to healthy food, and their ability to consume a healthy diet, improve.
- Of course, higher incomes (through paid work and welfare) increase people’s ability to afford healthy food. A holistic approach to increasing food security also means ensuring that people have:
- decent secure housing with adequate cooking facilities
- viable transport options and/or a thriving local community with a range of healthy and affordable food retailers nearby
- the freedom and flexibility to choose work patterns that suit them and allow time to cook meals (as well as time and support to learn how to cook, and to build up confidence with and knowledge of food, in some but not all cases)
- The UK has some of the cheapest food in Europe[xii] (although it is uncertain whether this will continue, if Brexit impacts on food prices), and advocating for cheaper food risks increasing pressure on food producers, a sector that already has a high incidence of poverty, so unless there are agricultural policies that might help such as increasing subsidies for production of healthy foods, this approach is not recommended.
- While it is important to recognise that healthy food has been consistently more expensive than less healthy ones, with a growing gap between them over many years[xiii], relatively affordable healthy food is available in some areas. This affordable healthy food could be made more accessible to people in other areas where food retail is lacking. Kellogg’s and Social Market Foundation’s report on food deserts in the UK[xiv], and Sow the City’s more in-depth map of access to food in North Manchester[xv] show many such locations that lack affordable healthy food retailers.
- The solution to this requires a mixture of private and social enterprise (including but not limited to food pantries) moving into these areas to provide better affordable food options. Encouragement and support from local authorities and health services, as well as other place-based services such as housing associations, could help to bring this about. Engagement with existing retailers is also recommended as some may be persuaded to provide a wider range of healthy foods at affordable prices.
- 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)?
- There are many great examples of action by local authorities across Greater Manchester, such as Manchester Holiday Buzz[xvi] and Wigan Fit[xvii] and Fed, cross-sector coordinated approaches to school holiday food and activities provision, Get Oldham Growing, a council funded community engagement project using food (growing, cooking and eating healthy) to bring people together[xviii], Salford’s local welfare assistance scheme Salford Assist offering shopping vouchers to help towards the cost of food during the six week summer holidays[xix], and Greater Manchester Moving, a plan to reduce inactivity and increase participation in physical activity and sport[xx]. Salford City Council also had a key role in the formation, and ongoing activity of the Salford Food Share Network – more on that below. While not strictly local authorities, it should be noted that much proactive and innovative action on food insecurity seems to be coming from housing associations, sometimes but not always in partnership with local authorities, and they should be a part of this conversation.
- Local authorities and other anchor institutions also have a role to play through procurement, for example supporting local food systems and supply chains, and providing good food for their workers and users. Devolving powers over procurement will give local authorities more freedom to explore opportunities to do this. Food procurement in schools is particularly important as in many cases they may provide a child’s only hot meal of the day. 83% of respondents to National Education Union’s survey said they see children showing signs of hunger during the school day[xxi], and hunger has a negative impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of children, and impairs learning by reducing children’s ability to concentrate. Oldham has managed to provide especially healthy food in its schools without increasing costs, and their work on this is worth further investigation to see if there is good practice that can be shared with other areas.
- What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?
- First and foremost what we learn from the charitable responses to hunger is that things need to change. Wages and benefits haven’t kept up with living costs while essential public services have been cut, so hard-stretched communities are picking up the pieces with responses that are well-intentioned and vital, but inadequate. The burden of mitigating food insecurity is falling on the wrong sector, with food banks struggling to retain volunteers (many of whom are older), and unable to meet the overwhelming need of so many people in their communities. While efforts are made in some cases to offer “wrap-around support” such as debt and welfare advice alongside food provision, these efforts are undermined by cuts to those (and other) services. At a time when the Government should take responsibility for ensuring a right to food, it has stepped back and left the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to take on an impossible task.
- Looking at the food support response in more detail, Lily Axworthy chaired our investigation into charitable (and social enterprise) responses to hunger in Greater Manchester, and wrote in November 2018, “According to the Trussell Trust, Food Bank usage in the UK rose by 13% in 2017/18 compared to the previous year, with more people accessing emergency food provision in the North West than anywhere else in the UK[xxii]. Much of the response to the increasing problem of Food Poverty has been driven by small community and faith groups, and much of the current provision across Greater Manchester (GM) is being delivered in an ad-hoc way – more so than the national average, as around 40% of food banks in GM are linked to the Trussell Trust[xxiii], compared with more than 60% nationally[xxiv]. As such, there is a recognised need for better coordination across the Food Support Sector. This would benefit service users, food support organisations, and other frontline services that may be signposting or referring individuals towards food support projects. Furthermore, there needs to be a range of options and opportunities on offer for people experiencing both food crisis and food insecurity in every local authority, with support and advice available at every stage of the process. Establishing a network of Food Support providers should allow for more accurate mapping of provision which in turn may allow for the more strategic development of food support provision. Until quite recently, a major focus of the Food Support sector has been providing emergency food parcels for households experiencing food crisis, with the large majority of organisations providing a few days emergency food with the hope that this will tide the household over until their next payday. Whilst it is vital to acknowledge the hard work of all those involved in running traditional, no cost food banks, as well as acknowledging that emergency, no-cost, food provision is still very much required within the sector (particularly in relation to those with no recourse to public funds), recently it has become apparent that there is a real need for longer-term low cost food provision for households who are facing long-term food insecurity. Most food banks are ideally set up to respond to households in crisis, however the number of households using Food Banks regularly as a result of on-going problems is growing. In 2017/18, the top reason given for accessing a Food Bank was ‘low income’ and “a growing proportion of food bank referrals are due to benefit levels not covering the costs of essentials”[xxv]. As such, there needs to be a concerted effort from the Food Support sector as a whole to create services/projects which address this more long-term need. There are many benefits of encouraging the development of projects which offer long term, low-cost food, such as Food Clubs, Pantries and Community Shops. From the point of view of the service user, they can benefit from an increased level of choice in the food they can access – including fresh food (which is not provided by most Food Banks), they may feel a greater sense of dignity in accessing this sort of project as they are not receiving “donated food” as “charity” but are instead able to pay an affordable amount to access food in a choice based, supermarket-style set up. Furthermore, membership of these projects does not have to be restricted to only those experiencing acute food insecurity, which also helps to remove the stigma associated with accessing food banks.”
- The Salford Food Share Network[xxvi] should be looked at as an example for other areas to consider. It is funded by the clinical commissioning group, supported by the city council, chaired by the Chief Officer of the Citizens Advice Bureau, and includes every food support provider in the city. It works to ensure a joined up food support system in the city (including links with Salford Assist) that meets the needs of residents, a good balance of food banks and food pantries, and a wrap-around service that includes advice and other forms of support as well as food.
- The Food Ladders approach developed by Dr Megan Blake is another model to consider, for creating household and community resilience by building on the capacity of food to bring people together. Food Ladders activates food and its related practices to reduce local vulnerability to food insecurity and its knock-on effects. Specifically, Food Ladders advocates for:
- Mobilising the more than nutrient, calorie and commercial aspects of food, such as its capacity to bring people together to foster shared understanding and collaboration;
- Creating safe and inclusive spaces for experimentation and interaction with food;
- Using a positive language of empowerment around food;
- Building place-specific levels of support that enable the recognition and enhancement of locally based skills and assets to create transformations in communities[xxvii].
- 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?
- The UK should embed the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2), "zero hunger by 2030" into domestic legislation, and appoint a minister responsible for meeting this goal. There are two key relevant SDG 2 targets which need to be on the face of any bill:
- By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular people in poverty and people in other vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
- By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons[xxviii].
- In order to achieve zero hunger by 2030, we recommend that the government should:
- raise the minimum wage to the Real Living Wage and include all workers over 18. In the interim, or if this is not possible for all sectors/employers, full support should be given to the Real Living Wage as a voluntary scheme for employers to sign up to, and create advantages for organisations that do e.g. preferential treatment in bidding for government contracts. Also, end exploitative practices associated with zero hours contracts.
- ensure that the welfare system, including pensions, provides enough for people and families to live on. The system should engage with claimants to understand their needs and build support around them. Reinstate ringfenced and increased budgets for Local Welfare Assistance Schemes for when people fall through the gaps in the welfare system. Add to those Local Welfare Assistance budgets smaller amounts for councils to use at their discretion, for organisations and networks that help them to reach and build support around people in need. You can see more about GM Poverty Action’s research and recommendations on local welfare assistance schemes here https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/local-welfare-assistance-scheme/
- increase levels of social and affordable housing.
- require local authorities to have poverty strategies in place (co-produced with people experiencing poverty, the VCSE sector and other partners - funding should be made available for the facilitation of this process in each area), and to appoint lead members who will take responsibility for the implementation of these strategies. You can see more about GM Poverty Action’s research and recommendations on poverty strategies (in this case, child poverty strategies) here https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/local-child-poverty-strategies/
- action to address food deserts and the poverty premium – incentives for businesses and VCSE organisations to make affordable healthy food available in areas that lack access to such food. Similar action on other aspects of the poverty premium. You can see more about GM Poverty Action’s research and recommendations on the poverty premium here https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/poverty-premium/
- More support and emphasis on the Healthy Start scheme, targets for each area to increase uptake. Any money not spent due to low uptake should be used to support low income families in other ways[xxix]. Health services should expand social prescribing for healthy food-related activities such as cooking classes and food growing
- measure food insecurity at the national and local level
- Involve VCSE and private sectors in an "exit strategy" for over-reliance on food banks
Tom Skinner, Co-Director, Greater Manchester Poverty Action
12 September 2019
[i] Greater Manchester Poverty Commission Research Report
[ii] Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s “Beyond Poverty” report (2018). Available at: https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/May-2nd-2018.pdf
[iii] Bulman, M. (2018, 24 April). Food bank use in UK reaches highest rate on record as benefits fail to cover basic costs. Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/food-bank-uk-benefits-trussell-trust-cost-of-living-highest-rate-a8317001.html
[iv] British Specialist Nutrition Association (2018). Forgotten not Fixed: A Blueprint to Tackle the Increasing Burden of Malnutrition in England. Available at: https://bsna.co.uk/uploads/banners/FINAL-Malnutrition-Map-20-February-2018.docx.pdf
[v] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2017). 100-day countdown: Greater Manchester mayor must get to grips with region's in-work poverty problem. Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/press/100-day-countdown-greater-manchester-mayor-must-get-grips-regions-work-poverty-problem
[vi] Greater Manchester Law Centre (2017). “We demand: no evictions as a result of Universal Credit delays” says GMLC, Disabled People Against the Cuts, Acorn tenants’ union and others. Available at: https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/2018/04/05/we-demand-no-evictions-as-a-result-of-universal-credit-delays-says-gmlc-disabled-people-against-the-cuts-and-acorn-tenants-union-and-others/
[vii] Williams, J. (2017, 19 Oct). Families are 'being made homeless' by Universal Credit - but its rollout will continue. Available at: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/universal-credit-families-homeless-arrears-13781685
[viii] Institute for Government (2017). The problems with Universal Credit. Available at: https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/problems-universal-credit
[ix] See Institute for Government (2017) above.
[x] Data from the National Diet and Nutrition survey
[xi] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2016). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/01/uk-impact-of-poverty-costs-78bn-a-year-joseph-rowntree-foundation
[xii] EU Commission food prices survey https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Comparative_price_levels_for_food,_beverages_and_tobacco. Also available at: https://www.fwi.co.uk/business/markets-and-trends/uk-has-some-of-lowest-food-prices-in-eu
[xiii] Jones, N et al (2014, October 8th). The Growing Price Gap between More and Less Healthy Foods: Analysis of a Novel Longitudinal UK Dataset. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0109343
[xxii] Trussell Trust, ‘End of Year Stats’, https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/
[xxiii] GM Poverty Action’s map of food support providers https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/maps/
[xxv] Trussell Trust, ‘End of Year Stats’, https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/