Beyond the Foodbank?

Last week saw the launch of part 2 of Lacuna’s ‘Beyond the Foodbank?’ edition about food poverty in Britain and responses to the problem. Lewis Smith and myself curated it. We were seeking to explore the increasingly complex web of initiatives and organisations that are trying to tackle the problem of hunger in the United Kingdom.

In Looking Beyond the Food Bank, Lewis interviewed Simon Shaw who works for Sustain, an “alliance for better food and farming”. Sustain campaigns to improve the fairness and sustainability of the food system for both producers and consumers. Simon leads Sustain’s work on food poverty. Here, he talks about Sustain’s wide-ranging work, including a recent project which encourages local authorities in London to step up and play a more active role in tackling food poverty. Simon argues that by supporting initiatives such as children’s centres, meals on wheels and Healthy Start (a voucher scheme supporting families on low incomes to access fresh fruit and veg), local authorities can offer a more effective response to food poverty than food banks.

Lewis and Simon also discuss some of the different community-led approaches to food poverty that have emerged recently, and talk more broadly about issues of choice, healthy eating, rights, and the need for a proper measure of food poverty to be introduced in the UK.

One of the initiatives that Simon talks about is Community Shop. And in Gin and Skinned Rabbits, Gary Stott and Clara Widdison from Community Shop tell us more about their organisation. They explain how it operates to “bring surplus food to families in deprived communities, selling it at deeply discounted rates and reinvesting the profit into individual and community development”.

Gary and Clara also look at how food culture in Britain has changed within living memory, and argue that these changes are also a part of the story of food poverty in Britain. They explain how, in response, Community Shop seeks to build communities around food, by growing, cooking and then eating food together. Their hope is for a world where food is no longer “a symbol of anxiety and financial hardship, but instead becomes representative of all that is good in life”.

In our final piece, Wendy Eades talks about an aspect of food poverty that perhaps causes more anxiety than any other; the holiday hunger that affects millions of children across the UK. She recounts her own local efforts to tackle the issue by setting up a MakeLunch kitchen in a school in Coventry. The scheme was a success. But it came to an end. Her own experiences led Wendy to think about the effects of holiday hunger for children up and down the country, and how we can respond better to tackle this issue in the future.

Wendy concludes by questioning whether this is a problem that can be left to voluntary initiatives alone. And this leads her to ask, just as Simon Shaw does, what the role of government should be in tackling the hunger issue. Should government be doing more to measure the extent of food poverty in the UK, to understand its root causes, and to support initiatives which provide solutions? And can invoking a “right to food” help us to hold our government and public authorities more accountable for the hunger affecting their citizens?

The first part of our Beyond the Food Bank edition led to a number of people getting in touch to say they would like to contribute to future discussions in Lacuna Magazine about food aid and food poverty. We will continue to explore these themes, by investigating the issues that are causing hunger and the range of organisations and campaigns that are trying to address these problems in different ways. And we will look beyond the UK to experience in other countries. So if you would like to join the conversation please do get in touch.

Should a poor Asian woman suffer five times the financial impact of austerity than a rich white man?

From 2011-2013 I worked with Mary-Ann Stephenson on a series of reports which investigated the human rights impacts of austerity on women in Coventry. In ‘Unravelling Inequality’, ‘Feeling the Pinch’ and ‘Layers of Inequality’ we uncovered how the combined impact of austerity policy was having a devastating impact on some women in the city. For women who were also poor, disabled  and/or from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, existing inequalities were compounded by being disproportionately hit by austerity measures.


Mary-Ann is now working at the Women’s Budget group. She was on Women’s Hour this morning talking about research WBG released today which shows how, across the whole of the UK, low income black and Asian women are paying the highest price for austerity. While the poorest Asian women will be losing more than £2,000 per year by 2020 (more than 11% of their income) as a result of austerity measures, the richest white men will be losing only £400.

As Mary-Ann pointed out on Women’s Hour “The Treasury have not carried out a proper analysis. They have not looked at how, for instance, the poorest Asian women will be affected… If you have got a government which says it wants to help those struggling most to cope, it has to find out how its own policies are affecting those people.”

The kind of analysis done by WBG needs to be widely shared, so as to help hold the government to account for talking about helping ‘just about managing’ families but not attempting to work out the effects of its policies on those who are most affected.