Future UK Household Food Security
25 October 2012
Last night the IPT hosted the second of its Policy Events Programme with the ‘Future of UK Household Food Security: Short and Long-Term Plans’. We were joined by Lord Cameron of Dillington, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Agriculture and Food for Development, Professor Elizabeth Dowler, Trustee of the Food Ethics Council and Roly Taplin, Vice President of the Specialist Network in the Transport Division for DHL Supply Chain.
The key issue highlighted throughout the discussion was consumer access to affordable, nutritious and safe food in a period of economic insecurity. It was noted that while issues of food security may be taken for granted in the western world it is quickly becoming a reality, with food prices rising by 32% in the years 2007 – 2012, along with a rise in living costs. For many families the rise in living is also coupled with falling incomes which, in day-to-day living means that food budgets are placed under further scrutiny.
The implications it was argued, are far reaching with the lowest income households shown to buy less food overall particularly in key food groups such as meat, fruit and vegetables which inevitably mean that with budget buying there is a rise in sugar consumption. Another trend of interest here was the reliance on frozen foods which are seeing a considerable rise in consumption in preference to buying fresh fruit and vegetables which often work out to be more expensive. Shopping habits are also changing with the rise of convenience stores, fast food and the ‘shopping on the go’ mentality rather than the traditional and prepared family shop.
Attendees noted the rise of food support initiatives such as breakfast clubs and Sure Start as playing a positive impact for low income families. There are a large number now relying heavily on the growing numbers of food banks and charities that offer and cook free food. An example given was that of The Trussell Trust who, in the last year, fed 130,000 people in 250 food banks across the country which was a 100% increase from 2010-2011.
While their work is hugely positive, it provides only a short-term solution for many families and highlights a worrying development that cannot be considered sustainable in the long term. It was also highlighted as a worrying social problem that needs to be seriously considered by Government and all political parties. One proposal outlined in the discussion was to give specific price support for key food items which included fruit and vegetables to ensure that the most nutritional foods were given preference over lower-quality products. Olivier De Schutter and other UN experts have called for the creation of a Global Fund for Social Protection which would equate to 2% GDP aimed primarily for countries without social protection. It was argued that here that the UK could go further to implement a wider Living Wage to counter-balance rising costs.
The discussion was particularly interesting in viewing the issue from the perspective of nutrition where despite the obesity epidemic faced in the western world there was serious lack of access to quality food, particularly important in the context of growth and development for children.
A more comprehensive Policy Report and podcast with Lord Cameron of Dillington, Professor Liz Dowler and Roly Taplin to follow.