Thousands of York children swept into food poverty, campaigners warn

URGENT action is needed to end food poverty in York, campaigners have warned, as new research suggests that “systems beyond their control” have swept thousands of children into hardship.

Food bank.

York Food Justice Alliance today outlines action that local and national leaders can take to solve the problem after a survey of 612 households with children in primary school found that 24 per cent had experienced food poverty or insecurity.

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Projected across the city, that suggests as many as 3,448 children in primary schools in the city are likely to be trapped in or at risk of such hardship, the alliance said. The alliance, whose research was led by the University of York, has published an annual report and written to the leaders of all groups on City of York Council, and the three main national parties, calling for action. The report will also be sent to the next Prime Minister.

Dr Maddy Power of the University of York, who led the research, said: “Thousands of children and adults are being swept into food poverty in York by systems beyond their control. We now have a very clear picture of the nature and causes of the problem, and we need to focus on solutions.

“The welfare benefits system was described by parents we spoke to as punitive, degrading, intrusive and a cause of stress.

“We’re a compassionate society and we need a just system that reflects that, ensuring that everyone is able to access and afford good food.”

Campaigners have described food poverty as the inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet.

Among the alliance’s recommendations to Government are to provide councils with sufficient funding, end the five-week wait Universal Credit claimants have for their first payment, and to unfreeze working-age benefit levels and increase them in line with the rising cost of essentials.

Included in its recommendations to the council are for it to formally recognise food poverty and insecurity as issues meriting priority action and measure them annually, support the development of an urgent “crisis alliance” and help people to get in contact, boost promotion of existing schemes that alleviate food poverty, review council tax criteria and establish a scrutiny group.

Among households with an annual income of £16,100 or less during the research, 64 per cent had experience of food insecurity.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said tackling poverty is a priority for the government, and absolute poverty is lower than in 2010.

They said: “Universal Credit is a force for good with over 2m people receiving the benefit successfully and no one needing to wait for their payments. The DWP has no intention of repeating the current benefit freeze.”

Fiona Phillips, assistant director for public health at City of York Council, said: “We know that recorded food poverty is on the rise across the country, and that York is no exception.

"We are working to address any challenge to York’s children getting a healthy, great start to life. Last year we brought together a multi-disciplinary partnership group to look at how we can help people in York achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

"That group is currently out to consult on a ‘Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives Strategy’.

“We have requested a full copy of this report, and will of course consider its content and recommendations."