Poverty warning as foodbanks struggle to meet demand

London Assembly report says long-term solution needed as food inflation hits five-decade high, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Volunteer picking items from Food parcel list
credit Trussell Trust

Food poverty in London is getting worse and foodbanks are struggling to cope, City Hall politicians have warned.

A new report on the issue, published on Thursday (20th) by the London Assembly’s economy committee, comes as figures this week revealed that food inflation is at its highest since the 1970s.

The cross-party committee’s report welcomed mayor Sadiq Khan’s pledge to provide free school meals to all London primary school children throughout the next academic year, but said “a long-term solution to the problem” of food insecurity was also needed.

Data from the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday (19th) shows that food and drink costs rose by 19.2% between March 2022 and March 2023 – the biggest jump since August 1977.

The committee’s report makes several recommendations, both to the mayor and to the government, to address the issue. It calls on Khan to work with the government and London’s councils to expand free school meals once his own funding comes to an end – and it urges the government to restore the £20 uplift of Universal Credit in line with inflation.

Hina Bokhari, the committee’s Liberal Democrat chair, said: “Food insecurity is not a new phenomenon for households on low incomes, but the current cost-of-living emergency is making this situation much worse for many Londoners.

“The provision of free school meals is vital to alleviating food insecurity among children from low-income households and we welcome the mayor’s free schools meals announcement.

“However, he said this was a ‘one-off proposal’, and we need a long-term solution. That is why we are urging the mayor to provide further information on the scheme and for detailed costings.”

She added: “We are also urging the government to restore the uplift of Universal Credit in line with inflation, to help to address food insecurity levels among the poorest households in London.”

Responding, a spokesman for the mayor said Khan had “continually called on the government to provide free school meals to help already-stretched households and remove the stigma around them, but they have simply failed to act”.

He added: “Sadiq is currently working with local authorities to roll this funding out and will update the [London] Assembly on this progress in due course, but he is clear that ministers must ensure that this provision is made universal for all primary school children in the long-term.”

A spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions meanwhile responded: “We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable which is why we have uprated benefits, including Universal Credit, by 10.1% this month and have provided more than £94billion over 2022/23 and 2023/24 to help people with higher bills – an average of over £3,300 per household.

“The number of children receiving a free meal at school has increased by more than two million since 2010, and over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with one in six in 2010.”

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