Rise in Food Poverty in Lambeth

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By Susan Sheehan, Director Incredible Edible Lambeth

Incredible Edible Lambeth is one of the core partners of the Lambeth Food Partnership (LFP), along with Lambeth Council and Lambeth Public Health. On Tuesday 8 th December LFP held a panel discussion on food poverty at Pop Brixton, as part of its annual general meeting. Panel speakers were Hannah Laurison, from Sustain, a national food campaign organisation, John Taylor from Brixton food bank, and Kemi Akinola from Brixton People’s Kitchen. All gave their perspectives on food poverty in Lambeth.

All agreed that food poverty is a highly complex area, and that the biggest single cause of food poverty is benefit sanctions and delays. Hannah has been comparing London boroughs and has found that Lambeth Council is not doing badly in terms of the interventions it is pursuing such as giving out Healthy Start vouchers and Alexandra Rose vouchers to families with very young children. She also praised the exemplary work of the council’s jobs and growth team on financial resilience and Lambeth’s support for the London Living Wage. However one in five residents in Lambeth are currently employed in jobs that pay below the London Living wage and that is strongly linked to food poverty – so much more needs to be done. Hannah raised concern that while Lambeth still does offer meals on wheels these are being cut across the country and we need to keep an eye on what can be done to fill any gaps that might emerge in the service.

Jon Taylor thanked the audience for the support the community gives to the Brixton food bank, both in terms of collecting food and volunteering, and in terms of social media support. He noted that Lambeth feeds more people through food banks than any other borough, with single adults and single parent families making up the majority of people who need help. Only a few people over age 65 attend and there is concern that this is a neglected group. Jon does see a lot of people just below retirement age who have lost hope and cannot find work.

Jon told a couple of shocking stories. He talked about a woman (S) whose benefits were sanctioned for 3 months twice, because she failed to attend a job club. Her daughter was in hospital with bipolar and S therefore needed to take care of her grandchild. S was told to find a babysitter but this was an emergency situation and she did not have easy access to anyone she trusted. For a total of six months S was dependent on friends and family for the survival of herself and her grandchild.

Next year Brixton food bank is opening a new debt centre with Christians against Poverty. There was a call for bags – as they relied on free supermarket bags before they would now like any strong cloth bags. Also although food banks tend to rely on non-perishable food if anyone can get fresh fruit and veg to the distribution centres on the day of distribution they would love to be able to give it out. Kemi often collects surplus food from local shops and offered to help make a connection with food banks, although the challenge is getting the surplus food to the places it is needed, and Kemi herself spends a lot of time picking up food on her trailer bike.

Brixton People’s Kitchen cooks surplus food and teaches people to cook at the same time. She is concerned that another aspect of food poverty is nutritionally poor food and that when people are hungry it is too easy to buy chips, so she is passionate about encouraging people to experiment with vegetables. All the food cooked is vegetarian.

So what’s the single biggest cause and the one big solution?, asked a questioner. It’s not that easy but “in the US inequality is accepted and food banks are institutionalised – the rise in food poverty should be a big wake up call in the UK and benefit delays and sanctions, and low wages should be addressed”, said Hannah Laurison. Jon agreed and sees a strong link with the benefit system and the unacceptable amount of surplus food that is wasted, but he can only deal with individuals. Kemi would add supermarkets and their refusal to sell ‘wonky veg’ into the mix and ask them to be part of the solution.

To find out more about Lambeth Food Partnership please visit www.lambethfood.org. Sign up to receive updates and contribute to campaigns and activities. Six new directors were elected at the AGM, and they are:

 Clara Widdison (Lambeth Community Shop)

 Kemi Akinola (Brixton People’s Kitchen)

 Andrea Brown (It’s your Local Market)

 Sally Hargreaves (Dietician NHS)

 Charlotte O’Connor (Loughborough Farm)

 Ainslie Beattie (Lambeth Food Partnership coordinator)

Congratulations on their election.