Food insecurity is a struggle that many individuals face due to insufficient access to food, whether it be pure inaccessibility or a financial barrier. However, chef Jamie Oliver has made many strides toward a less food-insecure future, especially for school children in the UK. From his TV series Jamie’s School Dinners in the 2000s to his constant support for free school meals, Oliver can be seen as a great force for bringing these issues to the forefront of parliamentary and societal debates.
Food Insecurity in the UK
Contrary to popular belief, food insecurity is not just an occurrence plaguing the developing world. It has a profound presence in some of the richest, most developed economies in the world. The UK’s rate of food insecurity is among the worst in Europe with 9.7 million adults having experienced food poverty from September to October 2022. This number does not include an additional 4 million children that suffered from food insecurity during that same time span.
The cost of living crisis has exacerbated the situation. The increased cost of living has forced an estimated 1 in 7 people to skip meals, while two-fifths have had to cut back on food spending. In responding to a Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey, 76% of individuals mentioned how rising food prices were a “major future concern” for them. Furthermore, those living with long-term health conditions, women and individuals from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were more likely to express anxiety over food costs.
There are many reasons why food insecurity persists. Primarily, it is caused by “low or unreliable” income due to low wages, an inadequate social security system and benefit sanctions, all of which make it difficult to cover housing costs, fuel and food costs. Another reason fuelling food insecurity is living costs rising faster than average pay, meaning that individuals are using more of their wages to pay for bills and other living expenses. Even children living in households that have at least one parent working are struggling to consume a sufficient amount of food.
Growing food insecurity has seen the rise of those using food banks. The Trussell Trust reported a 123% increase in food banks over the past five years, while the Independent Food Aid Network reports a 110% rise between 2019 and 2020.
Jamie Oliver’s Efforts
Oliver’s efforts for a less food-insecure future have included his advocating for good food being provided for children. In 2005, Jamie Oliver used his platform to launch the television series “Jamie’s School Dinners” as a way to campaign for meals and meal improvement in schools. The show did a great job of reminding schools and the government that “good food did not have to be expensive food” and even got the attention of then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Blair met Oliver and pledged that he would support the rebuilding of school kitchens so that fresh meals were made daily, junk food would be produced less and additional staff training would be provided. This campaign was hugely successful, with English scores rising by 6% and the number of absences due to illness falling by 15%.
Continuing his efforts for a less food-insecure future, Jamie Oliver called for free school meals to be given to all children in households on universal credit in October 2022. Following this, the government stated that 1.9 million children already receive free school meals in England, however, they promised to revisit the eligibility rules. In England, all infant state school pupils up to Year Two get free school meals during term time. For children in Year Three and above, those that live in households on income-related benefits are also entitled. However, this is only so when their annual household income is not above £7,400 after tax. With this campaign, Oliver hopes to extend free school meals to around 800,000 more children who are classified as the “most vulnerable.” This initiative has also been supported by teachers and teaching organizations.
Jamie Oliver’s work for a less food-insecure future can be seen as a huge success. Not only has it raised attention on the kinds of food being served to school children, but it has also directed attention toward growing food poverty and its profound impacts on them. Other famous figures have contributed to the cause as well such as footballer Marcus Rashford and chef Adam Simmonds.
– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Wikimedia Commons