1. My understanding of the key causes of food insecurity is a lack of access. From my perspective as a young person who has accessed many holiday provisions which provide food in the school holidays and a researcher studying poverty stigma, I would suggest to the committee that lack of access, rather than lack of groups, is the issue. In my local area, South Tyneside, it is clear that there is an effort to accommodate for those with food insecurity, particularly for families with younger children. However, stigma and poor organisation have impacted the ways people access holiday provisions and food banks and therefore perpetuates food instability, which I have conducted research on in my research scholarship through the Laidlaw Scholarship.
In addition to this, if we regard food instability as a lack of access to healthy foods, I suggest that people who struggle with food insecurity are actually less able to access healthy foods rather than any food at all. Due to holiday provision schemes rarely being coordinated with nutritional standards, young people attending these holiday schemes or accessing foodbanks are eating food that ultimately will contribute to obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. This is a problem seen in South Tyneside, a considerably deprived area where deprived wards see higher obesity rates. This was an issue we attempted to tackle in my local authority as a member of the youth council. However, the issue of food insecurity cannot be solved without addressing the structural issues of poverty being a lack of organisation at local and national levels for holiday provision and a lack of awareness towards nutritional importance.
3. This question can be addressed by referring to Episode 7 of my podcast which features various stakeholders in communities- notably a foodbank, Hebburn Helps. On the podcast, which I set up to discuss the research I had conducted but also raise awareness for important work being done in local areas about poverty, Hebburn Helps refers to the food which they are able to offer to ‘clients’. They predominantly accept tinned donations but also are able to accept donations from supermarkets if their fresh food is going out of date. Although tinned food is necessary for crisis food instability, it cannot offer the nutritional value of fresh food. However, the access that foodbanks have to fresh food is limited and, in the case of the featured podcast, mainly at night-time and on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, people with food instability can only access healthy foods if they are dependent on these foodbanks or very lucky to be in the ‘right place at the right time’ to receive fresh food. People with food instability must accept the food they are given which is often unhealthy and non-perishable food. More needs to be done to ensure that people with food instability are able to access healthy foods as easily as unhealthy foods without increasing the work-load of food banks.
4. Local authorities have been the main source of promotion of eating programs, especially around holiday provision (hunger) schemes that I have encountered or attended. Local authorities are key to holiday provision because they can reach people in the community in need more directly. In South Tyneside, the amount of holiday provision has exploded over the past few years to 8 holiday provision schemes (not including food banks) for young people in the area. A key aspect of this was mentioned on my podcast in Episode 4 of the podcast series with Professor Greta Defeyter where she remarks that holiday provision must offer more than just food. Local authorities are able to use council buildings (in South Tyneside it would be our local community hubs or climbing wall) to provide a wrap-around service of socialising and food, to encourage local people to use the service without stigma. In addition to this, local authorities must do more to ensure the ‘right’ young people are accessing the services to be able to measure its effectiveness. This must be done in a sensitive and de-stigmatising way perhaps with the biometrics system found in schools as mentioned on the podcast.
5. An extraordinary amount can be learned from food banks and charitable responses to hunger. In Episode 7 of my podcast with foodbank ‘Hebburn Helps’ they mentioned that they rely heavily on the donations and “generosity” of the local community. Although they are a foodbank, they also provide holiday provision, a clothes bank, a pet food bank, play schemes, days out and many other activities for people in need. However, it is key that these efforts are not solely reliant on the support of a generally low-income community as it provides a very unstable foodbank model. However, the idea of this foodbank being more than a place that gives out food is key to its successes in being utilised without stigma by people who need it in South Tyneside.
8. As a former member of the Sustain Children’s Health Fund, I found the work we did with the sugary drinks levy before its adaption into legislation is a key example of the food industry and government regulation driving change for healthy lifestyles. By restaurants opting into a small charge on sugary drinks, the money we were able to distribute as grants to water projects and holiday provision was incredible. The key element of having an unhealthy drink have a positive outcome for local communities, facilitated through a board, is an idea I think that could be applied to other issues concerning healthy foods and funding healthy lifestyle schemes.
15. A change that is necessary to coordinating food provision would be national level database of food provision in the UK. Although holiday provision is recorded locally, it is necessary that there is an understanding nationally that holiday provision for children on free school meals should be a right and not a luxury. A coordinated national system of understanding food provision would make the access to food a lot better for families in poverty by not only offering a helpful ‘menu’ of what is on offer in local areas but coordinate it with the biometrics system used in schools to record if that child is on free school meals. Therefore, a national system would be better to tackle access and the stigma attached to these holiday provision groups with a discrete system. This is currently being discussed in a local council in the North East and is discussed in Episode 4 of the podcast when talking about what is necessary to streamline a complicated system of accessing free food in the holidays.
Submission in a personal capacity:
Elif Emma True, Laidlaw Scholar and Student at University of York
29 September 2019
 South Tyneside Council (2017). Planning for Health and Wellbeing Hot Food Takeaways and Obesity in South Tyneside: Update on Evidence – Progress Report. [online] Available at: http://file:///Users/eliftrue/Downloads/Planning_for_Health_and_Wellbeing_HFTA_Updated_Document_2017_(2).pdf [Accessed 29 Sep. 2019].