‘No new aid for low-income families’: Greater Manchester poverty group condemns government’s food strategy

The government’s recently announced ‘food strategy’ offers ‘no new help for low-income families’, according to Greater Manchester’s Poverty Action Group. This was after plans to extend free school meals to an additional one million poor children were shelved in plans published today.

A white paper on food strategy was unveiled today but has been criticized in recent days after it was leaked to The Guardian. This was after a series of suggestions from the government’s food czar, Henry Dimbleby, were dropped.

This included suggestions from the founder of Leon to provide free school meals to all children in Universal Credit households. This is instead ‘watched’.

Dimbleby also advised taxes on sugar and salt products that would fund healthier food for those in poverty. But this too was dropped by the government after many Conservative MPs criticized the idea.

The food strategy has now been criticized by the Greater Manchester’s Poverty Action (GMPA) group, which believe it does little for low-income families, especially as the cost of living crisis continues to bite. They recently released their report ‘Poverty Monitor’ outlining that more children in the urban region are being driven into poverty, with urgent government intervention needed to address this.

Boris Johnson on a visit to Southern England Farms Ltd, ahead of the publication of the UK Government's White Paper on Food Strategy
Boris Johnson on a visit to Southern England Farms Ltd, ahead of the publication of the UK Government’s White Paper on Food Strategy

Food strategy would have been an opportunity to address this, GMPA says, but falls short in providing new support to low-income families and children. Their Poverty Monitor report outlined that one in four children in Greater Manchester live in poverty, while the number of food aid organizations has doubled in the past five years.

The whitepaper publication says they want to “start a school food revolution,” but the GMPA says there is no “new help” for families on this. The food strategy states: “We will introduce a range of measures to improve school food and build a strong food curriculum, including up to £5million to spark a school cooking revolution and a new trial for local authorities to ensure that schools adhere to school food standards.”

Graham Whitham, CEO of Greater Manchester Poverty Action, said: “The government’s food strategy published today does not provide new aid for low-income families, but simply outlines policies already in place, such as free school meals and school breakfast programs. The life crisis continues to affect more and more people. It is vital that we see that government support goes beyond funding for school food programs.

Graham Whitham, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Poverty Action
Graham Whitham, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Poverty Action

“We need to focus on family incomes and put more money in people’s pockets so that they can afford to buy food for their children and all the other things they need. In Greater Manchester we know the number of organizations that people with low-income support with food, such as food banks and food pantries, has doubled in five years, and that one in four children in the metropolitan region lives in poverty.

“Unless the government steps in to tackle the causes of poverty and not just its effects, poverty levels in our region and in the UK will increase. There are 195,000 workers in GM who earn less than the real living wage of £9.90 per hours, as prices for staple foods and gasoline continue to rise, it is becoming more difficult for low-income people to make ends meet.

“And while local councils in Greater Manchester are doing everything they can to support people, the drivers of change are governments and it is vital that they produce a thoughtful long-term poverty reduction strategy to support and prevent people that many are being forced into debt. Prices continue to rise. Families should not have to choose between paying the household bills or feeding their children.”

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters also rejected the strategy of being stripped to the bone. She welcomed food security and production measures as the war in Ukraine hurts wheat exports, but she told The Observer there was no plan to achieve the overall targets. She said: “It’s all very good to have words, but it has to have really meaningful delivery and we’re not seeing that in this document yet.”

The prime minister denied that the proposals fail to tackle obesity and said the best way to lose weight was to “eat less” when he visited a farm in Cornwall on Monday. “I am very grateful to Henry for all the work he has done. This is about helping support food and agriculture in the UK at a particularly important time,” Boris Johnson told LBC Radio on a visit to Southern England Farms in Hayle, south west Cornwall.

He added that innovation and technology in agriculture can “reduce costs to consumers” and enable more domestic food production. A clear priority for the food strategy is to reduce the distance between farmer and plate, with the vision that 50% of public sector food spending is for locally produced or certified food to higher standards.

The strategy also includes plans to establish a new professional body for the agricultural and crop sectors to boost training and equip companies with the skills needed to operate sustainably and profitably. The review also urged the government to “push” consumers to change their meat-eating habits.

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