As part of our Take Action’ Seminar Series we discussed food insecurity in the UK and how the LSE community can take action on the issue. If you weren’t there, don’t worry we’ve written a blog covering the key points made by our panel or you can check out the recording on CareerHub.
We were joined by two researchers from LSE Housing and Communities, Laura Lane and Ellie Benton, which operates within the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE). CASE examines the different dimensions of social disadvantage, and analyses the impact of public policy.
Our charity partner, The Felix Project, was represented by Damien Conrad the Depot Coordinator at their Enfield warehouse. The Felix Project works to reduce food waste and food poverty, by collecting food that cannot be sold and delivering them to charities who provide healthy meals. Our final panellist was Kitty Thompson (BSc Government, 2021) who is Project Lead for the LSESU Sustainable Futures Society and has written a report called the ‘Great Food Fight‘ which investigates food waste at LSE.
What is food inequality in the UK and what causes it?
Laura opened our panel discussion by explaining that food insecurity is to do with the accessibility and affordability of nutritional and high quality food. Although one might tend to associate it with just not being able to afford any food, it does actually focus on access to foods which aid a healthy lifestyle. Ellie echoed this stating that if you don’t have access to shops that are selling good quality food at an affordable price, you are more at risk of being food insecure.
Perhaps the most important understanding of food poverty is to remember that it is just poverty. Both Damien and Laura, stressed that the cause of food insecurity is low income. They went on to explore the causes of low income, such as a crashing gig economy, the housing crisis, benefits delays and caps. It’s not always caused by a lack of employment, in fact 70% of children living in food poverty have a parent in a job.
Within the area, it can be referred to as ‘heat or eat’ which is where families have to make the decision on whether the money goes towards heating their homes or towards food. Due to debt, short term contracts or zero hour contracts it is actually incredibly easy to go from ‘just getting by’ to completely falling apart, Laura said.
How has the situation changed in recent years and with COVID?
There has been an exponential rise in those who are depending on food hand outs across the country, due to reduced work during the pandemic. Damien shared that they receiving an increasing number of calls from charities who are desperate for more food, as the average number of meals the Felix project provides rises from 16 to 21 million a year. Whilst this is clearly a huge problem, there have been some wins from the pandemic, such the coming together of community and rise of Mutual Aid Groups.
Ellie agreed, explaining that because the UK has been forced to stop in lockdown, it’s been brought to attention how many people were on the breadline, were already relying on school meals and breakfasts clubs. Now that the public know how much of an issue this was before the pandemic, it is possible to gauge the immense impact of universal credit and roll back of community funding support. Ellie also emphasised the lack of informal structures during lockdown, where friends and family would visit each other to eat together.
With all of these compounding factors, food bank use has seen a dramatic increase over the pandemic. Laura highlighted that a lot of people who are now using a food bank have never had to use it before. She shared an account of one foodbank user who explained they had been donating to the food bank last year and they are now heavily dependent on it.
How has Marcus Rashford helped to bring light to food poverty within the UK?
Last year, footballer Marcus Rashford teamed up with FareShare to deliver meals in Greater Manchester, to those who were no longer receiving their free school meals because of lockdown. In June 2020, Marcus wrote an open letter the government asking them to end UK child poverty, a direct cause of food inequality in the UK. It was clear that all the panellists we incredibly positive about the footballer using his platform and personal experience to bring the issue to the public’s attention.
What needs to be done in this area?
Ellie stressed that whilst lobbying has been happening, its been hard for organisations to fight 10 years of austerity cuts which have forced many to be dependent on universal credit. Damien echoed this, running through the changes that are needed to reduce poverty such as fixing the housing policy and facilitating sustainable land use. He stressed that the government could do a lot more to encourage cooperative food space and free up more land.
Laura explained that at a local government level, there has been a lot more change happening. For example, Liverpool has signed up to become a ‘ meaning that everyone has a legal right to have access to food. Those who supported food banks had taken the time to set up lobbying groups and collect signatures locally to push Liverpool into signing up.
So, there are some positive moves forward when tackling food poverty! Ellie also mentioned the rise of Mutual Aid groups across the UK. These are informal groups within different communities that have no criteria of who and how they help people within their local area. Currently, Ellie is studying 20 different Mutual Aid groups and the research shows that at the start of lock down the issue wasn’t people not being able to afford food but they couldn’t access it. As the pandemic went on, they started to help those who couldn’t afford it more. Ellie encouraged students to get involved in their local Mutual Aid groups to help out and find out more about their communities!
If students want to help this cause, what can they do? Volunteer, fundraising, research work?
Following on from the previous question, it was obvious that joining your local Mutual Aid group is a great way to get involved in reducing food poverty, a long with other issues. As the Felix representative, Damien promoted volunteering with a charity as a great way; for example collecting food, driving deliveries, sorting at depots etc.
Kitty also stressed volunteering and said that students don’t have to wait until next year to be involved! LSESU RAG’s current partnership with the Felix Project means there’s lots of fundraising opportunities already going on. Personally, Kitty had gotten involved with LSESU Sustainable Futures Society by creating research projects looking into food waste at LSE. She encouraged students to get in touch with different societies (or the ones they are currently involved in) and explore how they can contribute to the cause.
What resources would you recommend for students who would like to find out more?
Damien recommended reading some of the publications from the Landworkers Alliance, a union of farmers, growers, foresters and land based workers who work to improve food and land-use systems. He also suggested reading into the organisation behind the Marcus Rashford campaign, End Child Food Poverty.
What small things can we do day to day?
- Laura advocated for End Child Food Poverty, explaining that there are lots of opportunities to volunteer and fundraise
- Ellie suggested taking a look at the Trussel Trust website for tips on being smart with food in the house and looking out for donation baskets at supermarkets.
- Kitty echoed Ellie’s suggestions but also encouraged students to use the OLIO app to not only reduce their food waste but also to find free food and reduce someone else’s food waste
- Damien recommended taking a look at Small Change Big Difference, a website with lots of tips on reducing food waste in the household
What are you feeling most optimistic about looking forward?
- Laura: During the pandemic, poverty has risen up the policy agenda as people are no longer able to ignore the issue. The public seem energised to
- Ellie: The work of Mutual Aid groups is particularly inspiring and has shown how powerful communities can be when given the opportunity to do that.
- Damien: The ability of technology to raise awareness and the way that Marcus Rashford was able to use his platform and experience!
- Kitty: After hearing the previous, Kitty could only agree with what has already been said.
The LSE Volunteer Centre would like to thank all those who joined us for this panel discussion and the speakers who gave their time to talk to us on food inequality. If you have been inspired by this session or blog, check out CareerHub where we’ll be advertising volunteering opportunities within this area and access our support services, like booking an appointment with the Volunteer Centre Manager.