The South Wales Food Poverty Alliance (SWFPA) was set up in January 2018 with financial support from the Big Lottery funded Food Power programme overseen by Sustain and Church Action on Poverty and supported in Wales by Food Sense Wales. We follow the principle that ‘food poverty in Wales is unacceptable’. Food poverty means the inability to afford or have access to foods which make up a socially and culturally acceptable healthy diet. People have a right to be adequately nourished to maintain health and dignity.1
Although the UK is the seventh richest country in the world, many people struggle to afford food. The surge in the number of people seeking emergency food support in Wales betrays the desperate, daily struggle facing many people, up and down the country, in just having access to the basics: like putting a meal on the table. The safety net of our social protection system is failing to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and half of all Welsh households experiencing poverty have at least one adult in paid employment. Earlier this year, the SWFPA published a Call to Action report2 outlining the scale of food poverty across the region.
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?
Our Call to Action report identified the often complex social, environmental and economic barriers people face in accessing food. These are categorised below, but we recognise that there is overlap between these categories and that some people experience multiple barriers:
1. A lack of finances to pay for food (this can be a temporary financial crisis or long term)
2. A lack of nutrition knowledge and cooking skills which impacts on the ability to eat healthily
3. A lack of access to affordable and healthy food (e.g. people who live in rural areas or in food deserts)
4. A lack of cooking facilities or the ability to use them (e.g. older people or people with disabilities or people who live in a shelter where there are no cooking facilities or people living in fuel poverty).
With an effective measure of food insecurity only recently being introduced by UK
Government, the best data we currently have is from The Trussell Trust which shows the demand for three-day emergency food supplies from their foodbanks is increasing each year. In more recent years, there have been greater numbers of people who are in work accessing emergency food and the introduction of Universal Credit has also had a significant impact on demand.
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?
A recent Food Standards Agency report found that a fifth of people in Wales are worried about running out of food and that 26% of 16-34 year olds surveyed in Wales ran out of food in the past year.3 The Food Foundation4 has shown that 160,000 children in Wales are living in households for whom a healthy diet is increasingly unaffordable. Comparing the estimated cost following the UK Government’s ‘Eatwell Guide’ with household income shows that the bottom 20% of families in Wales would need to spend 36% of that income on food to meet PHE’s Eatwell Guide. Due to a complex mix of factors, people on low incomes have the lowest intakes of fruit and vegetables and are far more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and coronary heart disease.5 A report by Age Cymru in 2015 found that 36% of retired households had cut back on the amount or quality of food that they buy.6
The Childhood Measurement Programme (2016/17)7 showed that reception-age children in Wales are significantly more likely than the Welsh average to be obese, if they live in areas of higher deprivation. The gap between obesity prevalence in the most and least deprived quintiles has increased from 4.7% in 2015/16 to 6.2% in 2016/17. Obesity prevalence in reception-age children highest in Merthyr Tydfil and is significantly higher than the Welsh average in Blaenau Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taf.
A 2017 report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health sought the views of paediatricians across the UK on how poverty effects the physical and mental health of the children they see.8 More than 3 in 5 respondents said that food insecurity contributes ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with and a further quarter that it contributes ‘somewhat’.
Our mapping work highlighted the potential impacts on food insecurity on child health with a close relationship between the numbers of children living in relative poverty and childhood tooth decay and obesity for example.
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?
A report commissioned by Kelloggs in 2018, highlighted that people living in areas of low income are also likely to be inadequately served by retail outlets offering food that is both affordable and sufficiently close to where they live.9 These areas are known as food deserts and can result in people having to use an already stretched budget to pay for transport to access food, having to carry food long distances, having to choose food that is easier to carry such as ready meals or low quality take away food or simply going without. The report found the following clusters of ‘deprived food deserts’10 in South Wales:
• St Mellons, Old St Mellons (Cardiff)
• Rumney, Trowbridge (Cardiff)
• Bishpool, Liswerry, Ringland (Newport)
• Rhigos, Hirwaun, Penywaun, Cefn Rhigos, Penderyn, Llwydcoed (Rhondda Cynon Taf)
• Parts of Rumney (Cardiff)
• Brynmawr, Pontygof, Clydach Terrace (Blaenau Gwent)
One solution to food deserts are community food co-operatives. A food co-operative is a simple system through which people can access affordable, quality, fresh fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis at a local community venue. The food co-ops are run by local volunteers and work by directly linking the local community to local suppliers. A bag of fruit or vegetables bought from a food co-op typically costs around £3. Up until September 2016, the Community Food Co-operative Programme in Wales was supported by the Rural Development Unit and funded by Welsh Government. The Programme left a legacy of 300 co-operatives across Wales, generating income for Welsh businesses, providing customers across Wales with accessible, healthy, fresh and affordable food and helping volunteers to gain vital skills and confidence. However, since Welsh Government financial support for food co-operatives ended in 2016 significant numbers of these are no longer operating. For example, out of 26 food co-operatives operating in Cardiff, research into provision by Food Cardiff in June 2018 found that only 8 food co-operatives out of this list were still running across the city. Similarly, out of 4 community food co-operatives in Merthyr Tydfil there is currently only one in operation delivered by Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association.
Communities are also delivering solutions to food deserts, for example The Pantry model as provided by Dusty Forge in Ely, Cardiff.11
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)?
The School Holiday Enrichment Programme (SHEP) is a school-based scheme that provides healthy meals, food and nutrition education, physical activity and enrichment sessions to children in areas of social deprivation during the school holidays. During the school holidays, when Free Breakfast in Primary Schools and FSM are not available, some families struggle to afford or access food that provides a healthy diet. Some children also experience social isolation and a lack of intellectual stimulation, normally provided by school or family enrichment activities, and this may contribute to widening the attainment gap. SHEP co-ordinators complete Nutrition Skills for LifeTM accredited training12 and provide standardised, evidence-based nutrition information.
The Welsh Government’s Department for Education and Skills part funded the programme with £500,000 per year from 2017 to 2019. The programme continues to grow each year: in
2018, 16 local authorities across Wales provided SHEP (known locally as Bwyd a
Hwyl/Food and Fun) in 53 schemes for a minimum of 12 days of the school summer holidays. There were up to 2,300 SHEP places available including provision for special educational needs in 3 local authorities.
The feedback from children on SHEP has been extremely positive, particularly in relation to playing sports and being active, socialising/making friends, eating a healthy breakfast/lunch and learning/trying something new. Children reported exercising more and eating healthier on days they attended the scheme and the majority reported positive intentions when the scheme had finished. Parents reported many benefits to their children, including improved behaviour and reduced anxiety about returning to school in September, less anxiety about the costs of feeding the family over the holidays and being able to continue working, where they would normally have to stay at home to care for their child(ren). Schools and SHEP staff reported improved parental and pupil engagement, collaborative work between school and SHEP partners, and the raising of pupil aspirations from role models providing enrichment activities.
An additional £400,000 revenue has been allocated by Welsh Government in 2019 – 2020 to extend the programme which is coordinated by the Welsh Local Government
Association. The Welsh Government Child Poverty Strategy progress report13 highlights the success of SHEP and the WLGA undertook an evaluation of the scheme.14
There are other organisations working on provision of activities and meals during the school holidays, for example Fit and Fed which is delivered via Street Games. Fit and Fed works with the local community at community venues to deliver food poverty interventions alongside sports activities. In 2017 and 2018 the Fit and Fed scheme was delivered at several sites in Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Newport, RCT and Caerphilly.15 Housing associations and church groups also provide food for local families during the school holidays.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales: A Charter for Change16, includes recommendations for protecting Welsh children from the impact of poverty including making more children eligible for FSMs and giving more children access to food provision during the holidays. Action to tackle the hunger experienced by children and their families during the school holidays was also raised in a recent Bevan Foundation report17 which called for greater investment, minimum standards, legislation requiring local authorities to co-ordinate sufficient holiday provision, flexibility with rent or council tax payments during the holidays and holiday income supplements.
Although nutrition knowledge and cooking skills are not a solution to food poverty, programs to help people cook nutritious food on a budget can be helpful for people on low incomes. The Nutrition Skills for LifeTM (NSfL) training programme, co-ordinated by dietitians in NHS Wales aims to build community capacity to support healthy eating. This is achieved through accredited nutrition skills training for community workers/ volunteers, peer leaders, school based staff and others to be able to pass on evidence based nutrition messages to communities that they work with. It supports the development of community food and nutrition initiatives and trained community workers can deliver accredited nutrition courses, practical food skills courses (Get Cooking and Come and Cook/Dewch i Goginio) and the structured weight management programme Foodwise for Life. The programme aims to reach communities that stand to benefit the most to address diet related inequalities.
5) What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?
We need a shift of focus from the provision of food aid to boosting incomes so that everyone can access it. Primarily it is the role of the government to ensure that people have enough cash to be able to eat – and that food aid should not replace the dignity and choice afforded to those who can afford to buy food. Without a shift in focus we risk food banks becoming an institutionalised fixture of Welsh society. This is not what we want.
The Trussell Trust data and frontline knowledge is invaluable in understanding the reasons why people find themselves at crisis point and the scale of food insecurity across our communities. For example, organisations like The Trussell Trust helped identify practical ways in which the delivery of Universal Credit could be improved. Many Trussell Trust food banks are working with a range of local agencies to tackle food poverty for example, the Vale Food bank receives fresh food from local allotments and has advisors from Citizens Advice, Shelter Cymru and Pobl in its centres to ensure people access the support they need to address their crisis.
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?
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?
The Peas Please initiative, which is supported by Food Sense Wales, is working with food outlets to drive up vegetable consumption in UK diets. In the first year, 41 pledgers from across the food system led to 4.8 million additional portions of veg sold. One example in Wales, was Brains who set about training its 1,552 staff in all things Peas Please and developing veg-friendly children’s menus. In the second half of 2018, Brains had sold an additional 88,000 children’s portions of veg by increasing the vegetable content of children’s meals from one to two portions.18 Peas Please also recognises that only 1.2% of the food and drink advertising on TV is for veg.
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?
Links are increasingly being drawn between low pay and poor quality employment that means for many, work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty. Following his visit to the UK in November 2018, the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights highlighted his concern that employment wasn’t even a guarantee against people needing to use food banks with one in six people referred to Trussell Trust food banks being in work.19
Women are less likely than men to be in good quality employment20 being consistently over-represented in low paid, part time, insecure and temporary work. They face the double burden of poverty and discrimination, and continue to be paid less than men, even at the top, often struggling to find roles that allow them to earn a living while also coping with the lion’s share of domestic work and childcare.
Research on decent work for women in the food and drink sector found that the workforce remains heavily gender segregated with more to be done to tackle a culture of discrimination based on gender.21 Career pathways within the food and drink sector were overall not clearly defined with more needing to be done by stakeholders to develop and communicate opportunities for career progression. The Food and Drink industry has been recognised as a core part of the foundational economy for support by Welsh Government under their Programme for Government: Prosperity for All. Welsh Government see providing ‘fair work’ and better skilled (and remunerated jobs) as key to the Food and Drink sector’s contribution to tackling poverty and inequality.
Global supply chains
As well as having a role to play here in the UK the food industry, including supermarkets, must do everything it can to ensure that the human and labour rights of the people producing our food, whether here in the UK or overseas, are respected and to end the widespread human suffering among women and men in global food supply chains.22
Health before profits
The Children’s Right to Food Charter23 produced as part of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry, called for ‘Health before profits’. The children wanted child health to come before the profits of big business and stated that this could be achieved by:
• Stopping marketing aimed at children on packaging
• Ending promotions on unhealthy foods and instead replacing these with health warnings similar to those on cigarette packets
• Tackling marketing of junk food on TV, near schools, online and on social media
• Increasing business rates for fast food shops near schools and using the funding to support food education and extended school day projects
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?
10) Can efforts to improve food production sustainability simultaneously offer solutions to improving food insecurity and dietary health in the UK?
Currently a high proportion of food produced in Wales is “value added” (i.e. processed) and we only produce around 5% of our requirements for fruit and veg. Leadership to incentivise the balance of production in Wales to reflect the Eatwell guide should be a priority.24
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?
In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that globally 1.3 billion tonnes of our food are wasted or lost every year, accounting for a third of the food produced for human consumption.25 With increasing incidences of extreme weather events due to climate change, depleting natural resources and uncertainties in the global supply of food, increasing the efficiency of our food system and preventing food waste is key.26
In the UK the largest retailers, food producers and manufacturers, and hospitality and food service companies have committed to milestones laid out in a new industry Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, developed in conjunction with IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution) and WRAP to tackle food waste.27 Measuring and reporting on food waste will help identify surplus and opportunities for redistribution in their own operations and their supply chain.
In Wales, tackling food waste is a priority for Welsh Government and it is estimated that approximately 500,000 tonnes of food are wasted by the food industry each year.28 Businesses of all sizes should be encouraged to commit to 'Target, Measure and Act' on food waste. Welsh Government’s Food and Drink Wales Plan suggests that larger businesses could further demonstrate their corporate social responsibility by signing-up to Courtauld 2025.29 Government should also be encouraging businesses to work with their communities to support initiatives to make healthy food more accessible and affordable. This will help ensure that food fit for human consumption is redistributed to charities instead of being directed to waste treatment facilities.
For example, FareShare Cymru works with over 200 charities and community organisations across South Wales and in 2016-17 redistributed enough food to contribute to over 1.5 million meals to organisations that help feed people in need. It is estimated that this food saved the third sector circa £500,000 which many of the organisations divert back into their vital frontline services or enables them to continue to provide their food services. FareShare Cymru enables the community organisations they supply to provide regular, well-balanced, nutritious meals improving the nutrition and health of people using the services. Research by NatCen30 for FareShare UK highlights some of the positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of people accessing nutritious surplus food through FareShare’s network of community food partners:
• 59% of people using the service say they eat more fruit and vegetables
• 87% say that eating a meal at the service has a positive impact on how they feel
• 92% say that being able to have a meal at the service helps them ‘face the day ahead’
In addition, FareShare Cymru’s work enables some organisations to run services such as luncheon clubs which reduce the impacts of loneliness and isolation.
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?
Members of the SWFPA believe that a strong focus on schools and education is essential to improving dietary behaviours. Financing policies that maximises the numbers of children eligible for FSM should be viewed as preventative spending. The broader benefits of widening access to FSM are well known with economies of scale reducing the price per meal, improvements in children’s health generating savings for the NHS, educational benefits supporting a more prosperous economy as well as the potential to boost the rural economy and to deliver wider environmental outcomes such as improvements in land management and reductions in energy use and waste generation. If implemented properly, widening the eligibility and provision of FSM could help ensure children can access at least one healthy meal per day as well as promoting local and sustainable food production, ensuring budget is spent in a way that supports rather than damages the environment and local economy. Targeted public sector procurement focussing on FSM provides an opportunity to support the rural economy by offering a predictable and guaranteed market for farmers and other local producers.
Our Call to Action report also showed that the uptake of the Healthy Start Vouchers across South Wales varied from 62% to 74%, representing a significant underspend. Research by Food Cardiff found that many retailers accepted HSV for products not included in the scheme, no retailers were visibly advertising the scheme and that knowledge and understanding of the scheme was low among front line staff. Additionally, the value of the voucher has remained unchanged since 2009. A coalition of charities and health bodies recently published an open letter calling on the Government to boost promotion of the Healthy Start voucher scheme to ensure low income families can access healthy food.31
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?
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?
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?
Hayley Richards, Chair South Wales Food Poverty Alliance
10 October 2019
1 Article 25 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
6 Age Cymru (2014) Life on a low income: The reality of poverty for older people in Wales https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-cymru/documents/policy/life-on-a-low-income/life-on-a-lowincome---final---e.pdf accessed Feb 2019
9 Social Market Foundation Can everyone access, affordable, nutritious food? https://www.kelloggs.co.uk/content/dam/europe/kelloggs_gb/pdf/Kelloggs_Food_Desert_Brochure.pdf accessed Feb 2019
10 A deprived food desert was defined as an area with two or fewer supermarkets/ convenience stores which is in the most deprived 25% of areas as defined by the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation.
12 https://www.publichealthnetwork.cymru/en/topics/nutrition/nutrition-skills/ 13 Welsh Government (2016) Child Poverty Strategy Assessment of Progress
14 WLGA (2017) Food & Fun SHEP report
https://www.wlga.wales/SharedFiles/Download.aspx?pageid=62&mid=665&fileid=1550 accessed Feb 2019 15 Fit and Fed (2018) Flier
21 Chwarae Teg (2017) Decent work for women in Wales: A sectoral study https://www.cteg.org.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2018/08/Decent-Work-for-Women-in-Wales-Exec-Summary.pdf accessed Feb 2019 22 Oxfam (2018) Ripe for Change: Ending human suffering in supermarket supply chains https://policypractice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/ripe-for-change-ending-human-suffering-in-supermarket-supply-chains620418 accessed Feb 2019
24 https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Royal-Welsh-Presentation-2017.pdf 25 FAO (2011) Global Food Losses & Food Waste http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e00.pdf accessed Feb 2019