Health and wealth inequalities are rife across the UK. Incomes are far more unequal today than they were in the 1960’s and 70’s, with more wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer people.
These stark inequalities mean that not everybody in the UK has an equal opportunity to participate in the food system. Hundreds of thousands of people face degrees of food insecurity – many of them working in our food and farming systems in low-paid and precarious jobs.
Food insecurity can be mild, leading to a worry about being able to obtain food, or moderate – where families compromise on the quality, quantity and variety of food they put on the table, or perhaps even skip meals. Severe food insecurity means a person or family is experiencing hunger.
A complex set of structural issues lead to food insecurity, including insecure, inadequate and expensive housing, insecure and low paid employment, an inadequate social safety net, poor health, and environmentally unsustainable and socially unjust food production and distribution systems. Faced with these issues, many people end up in the benefit system, and potentially the need to visit a foodbank.
Although foodbanks provide crucial emergency aid, they don’t address the reason why people struggle to afford food. In the short-term, whilst there remains the need for emergency food aid, foodbanks and other emergency food responses must strive to destigmatise their help, and must resist becoming an institutionalised solution.
Longer term, we must make the case at the national level to address the structural causes of food insecurity, including fair wages and living conditions, an adequate social safety net, access to healthcare and education, and affordable homes. The government has the power to address food insecurity through public procurement, committing to make healthy and sustainable diets the norm in schools, hospitals and other public settings.
Food insecurity can be tackled at a very local level. Good food and wellbeing are important. Communities that come together to create social sanctuaries by using food as a connector and vehicle for change can tackle inequality. Growing communities like Hackney and Dagenham farms, and community kitchens like Bristol’s Coexist, give people the opportunity to reconnect with where their food comes from, and how it can be good for their health, and the health of the planet too.