SEATTLE, Washington — London is a bustling city known for its rich history, culture and diversity. However, 2.3 million Londoners currently live below the poverty line and 33% of adults often go without meals in order to provide for their children. In order to address this issue, the London Food Programme and Sustain, a public interest organization, have collaborated to fund and guide the development of Food Poverty Action Plans. These initiatives are concrete, innovative approaches to tackling food poverty in London.
Food Poverty in London
Poverty rates range from 15% to 39% across London’s boroughs. Mayor Sadiq Khan spearheaded London’s first food insecurity survey in 2019, which revealed that 40% of those facing hunger were of Asian or African descent and 400,000 food-insecure citizens were children under the age of 16. The mayor and other public interest groups have recognized debt, economic inequality and lack of welfare support as main drivers in London’s food poverty.
While London possesses a thriving food sector with markets, restaurants and cafes, low-income generation for the city’s poor hinders access to high-quality, nutritious food. The Trussell Trust, a network of food banks across the United Kingdom, reported that food banks granted 169,734 three-day emergency food supplies in London from 2018 to 2019. Additionally, from 2015 to 2020, food parcel demand has doubled across the city.
London Food Strategy
In December of 2018, Mayor Khan released the London Food Strategy as well as an Implementation Plan that emphasizes the necessity for healthy food that is both attainable and affordable.
Common barriers such as work schedules, income levels and proximity to store locations hinder the feasibility of attaining quality food. With six main focuses that revolve around domestic food security, healthy food promotion in the private and public sector, quality nutrients for new mothers, urban farming and environmental sustainability, the London Food Strategy aims to mitigate London’s food poverty.
Another facet of the London Food Strategy is the importance of the food sector to the city’s economy. As of 2018, the food sector accounted for 10% of London’s jobs and generated €20 billion. Promotion of healthy food initiatives creates jobs, provides skill-training and enhances a community’s connectivity.
The city also struggles with high rates of child obesity. From a consumer’s perspective, access to healthy food is necessary for disease prevention as well as physical and mental well-being. Due to this, the plan also includes food advertisement regulations on the city’s public transportation system in order to ensure that corporations are advertising nutritious options.
Food Poverty Action Plans
Addressing food poverty requires an integrative mindset that considers growing, purchasing, preparing and consuming food. As such, alleviating London’s food poverty encompasses a variety of public, private and third sector members as well as community stakeholders that are factored into the boroughs’ Food Poverty Action Plans.
Tower Hamlets, the London borough with the highest poverty rate, incorporated each of these stakeholders in its plan and considered it as part and parcel to addressing poverty as a whole. Each facet of the plan aims to accomplish the following:
Locally-Sourced Healthy Food: Provide healthy options in schools, promote cooperatives and fresh markets, encourage food redistribution at lower costs and prioritize sustainability.
Purchasing and Preparing Healthy Food: Teach community members requisite skills to cook food, foster apprenticeship programs in restaurants and capitalize upon food festivals to celebrate diverse, healthy options.
Food Growing: Provide instruction and toolkits for growing produce and allocate space for community gardens.
Hunger Over School Holidays: Develop programs that provide activities and sustenance for children, young people and their guardians during the 170 days that school is out of session.
Enacting the London Food Strategy has the potential to create jobs, strengthen community ties, increase neighborhood safety, reduce poverty, prevent child obesity and ensure that Londoners can attain high-quality food. The Food Poverty Action Plans are concrete strategies that can raise public awareness about food poverty, create networks able to address the multi-faceted issue, increase funding opportunities and enhance the well-being of London’s most impoverished communities. For instance, in 2018, the Tower Hamlets Council received accolades for their successful endeavors in addressing food poverty. Through this broad, integrated scheme, the city is taking steps forward in caring for its citizens and addressing food poverty in London.
– Suzi Quigg