Cracking Good Food
 
 

Food Insecurity in Greater Manchester

 

CAMPAIGNING 

Traditionally, our focus as an organisation has been on increasing cooking-from-scratch skills and knowledge of good food in hard-to-reach communities. However, after more than a decade of punitive and debilitating austerity politics topped by a global pandemic, we have found ourselves being asked more and more to provide nutritious meals to alleviate hunger and food security all over Greater Manchester. ‘Cracking the Crisis’ saw us distribute more than 95,000 community meals in the first year of the pandemic and we partnered with Life Leisure in Stockport to provide more than 2700 packed lunches for children at-risk of food insecurity in Stockport this summer using HAF funding. We have been shocked time and time again about the levels of hunger and poverty local people are encountering, the causes of which are entirely avoidable. 

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Food insecurity in Greater Manchester

WHAT IS FOOD INSECURITY?

There are many definitions of food security; we use this one, which is based on the one used by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security:

‘Food security means that all people, at all times have access to sufficient, safe, sustainably-sourced and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.’ 

Food insecurity is often broken down into 2 categories: 

1. Any food insecurity, where the quality and variety of people’s diets were affected by lack of money, e.g. people couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals in the last 30 days

2. Severe food insecurity, where the amount of food that people eat has been reduced by lack of money e.g. cutting the size of/skipping meals in the last 30 days.

CAUSES OF FOOD INSECURITY

Poverty 

Poverty of all kinds, including chronic, severe poverty, is rife in Greater Manchester (over 620,000 people here live below the poverty line) and its destructive effects often leave people extremely food insecure. It is common to hear people suggest that food insecurity and hunger can be fixed by offering cooking classes or teaching people to budget; whilst these skills can be helpful in improving our communities’ prospects of food security, the complex and brutal reality of experiencing chronic poverty cannot be overcome without addressing low wages, insecure employment, a degrading and insufficient benefits system, inadequately funded mental health services, and many other resources we need to ensure a food-secure population. This article, ‘You Don’t Batch Cook When You’re Suicidal’ by the incredible campaigner Jack Monroe is a useful and informative exploration of this subject. 

Living in a ‘food desert’ or ‘food swamp’ 

Your access to good-quality food is hugely affected by where you live. A ‘food desert’ is an urban area with limited or no access to affordable, fresh food.  This means that people have to travel further to access such ingredients, which can be expensive, impractical or impossible for people facing other challenges.

 A ‘food swamp’ is an area where there is a lot of food for sale that is not nutritious, or worse, and therefore is seen to be a threat to public health. This means that is harder for people living in these areas to make healthy food choices. 

Environmental factors 

However, it is not only poverty and low-income which can result in individuals and communities becoming food insecure.  We can only anticipate increased disruption to our food supplies caused by Brexit and rampant climate change. We actively support local growing schemes and organisations such as Sow The City, City of Trees, Platt Fields Market Garden, Cleavely Community Forest Garden, Hulme Garden Centre and the Kindling Trust to encourage hyper-local growing which is friendly to the planet.  

Lack of cooking skills 

Lack of access to cooking facilities and kitchen equipment 

Lack of knowledge about nutrition and diet-related health outcomes

Lack of confidence and sense of self-worth 

Of course, this list is not exhaustive and many of these ‘barriers’ to food security overlap and coexist with one another. Throughout our work we aim to identify and break down as many of these barriers as possible, in every community we work in.  

What we are doing to help increase food security: 

  • Providing a voice to people experiencing food insecurity 
  • Signposting and supporting access to services – affordable food hubs such as Stockport Pantries, food banks, Healthy Start Voucher Schemes. 
  • Learning from and collaborating with others including Greater Manchester Poverty Alliance, Greater Manchester Food Security Network, Manchester Food Board, Our Manchester Food Partnership. 
  • Working in partnership with others including Lifeshare, Groundwork, The Bread & Butter Thing, Stockport Pantries and many more. 
  • Supporting & facilitating academic research – we are currently working on H3 project to help raise the voices of people experiencing poverty into the academic realm. 
  • Campaigning for greater change to end poverty, not just to alleviate it  

The National Food Strategy 

Researched and written by Henry Dimbleby and released in 2021, the National Food Strategy presents a range of recommendations for a fairer, more equal and more sustainable UK food system. We believe that the recommendations represent a ‘bare minimum’ of what needs to be done to alleviate hunger and increase food securities amongst the communities in which we work, but we whole-heartedly support their implementation into policy at the earliest possible opportunity. 

Key recommendations our work supports 

The following Key Recommendations are supported by our projects and services: 

  • Recommendation 3. Launch a new “Eat and Learn” initiative for schools.

Our educational programmes for schools offer a fun, engaging and accessible opportunity for young people to engage with cooking-from-scratch and to learn more about sustainable food systems. Our team of knowledgeable nutritionists and canny community cooks are experts in delivering our ‘good food messages’ to empower young minds to make positive food choices. 

  • Recommendation 5. Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years.

This summer, we partnered with Life Leisure in Stockport to deliver more than 2900 healthy packed lunches and freshly-cooked hot meals to children from low-income households during the school holidays. This video illustrates some of the many reasons it is imperative that the HAF programme is extended: https://youtu.be/VXz88f1RuJk

  • Recommendation 6. Expand the Healthy Start Scheme.
  • The Healthy Start scheme aims to tackle health inequalities and maximise the incomes of young pregnant women and low-income families with children under the age of 4. Eligible families receive vouchers of £4.25 a week to spend on fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables, pulses and grains and cow’s milk, helping to ensure that every child has a healthy start no matter their circumstances. Unfortunately, £4 million of vouchers go unclaimed in Greater Manchester each year, meaning that 40% of eligible families are missing out. 
  • As part of the GM Healthy Start Voucher Task & Finish Group, we work with many other stakeholders to campaign for the expansion of the scheme to include people with no access to public funds.  We have also been contributing to the planning conversations about the impending digitisation of the scheme, now due to take place in 2022. We are vocal advocates of the expansion of the scheme to include more people.  
  • Throughout our community projects such as Veg-Up! and Pantry Pods, we ensure that the people we are supporting are made aware of Healthy Start Vouchers and supported to apply for them if they wish. There are many barriers that can prevent people from applying; we work with ground-level partner organisations around Greater Manchester to ensure people are provided with the necessary support to apply wherever we can. For example staff and volunteers at Manchester Central Food Bank have compiled a brilliant archive of translated information and application forms which they distribute to others as needed, meaning that people who speak limited or no English are able to find out more about the scheme and apply. 

  • Recommendation 7. Trial a “Community Eatwell” programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.

Our Veg-Up! project, which was piloted in Salford and Stockport this summer, exactly fits the proposed brief ‘to provide targeted healthy eating support for people on low incomes’. The project aims to break down the barriers that stand in the way of people including fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet by providing free veg-bags, community cooking classes and accessible recipes. Participants are also linked in with other local support services and learning opportunities. 68% of the households we supported with Veg-Up! cooked more meals from fresh ingredients as a result of the project. Furthermore, 73% of households reported that they had tried new fruits and vegetables throughout the project which they now continue to include in their diet. You can read more about our Veg-Up! project and its impact here. 

Read the full report and recommendations 

 Read Now

Welfare – At A Social Distance

Welfare – At A Social Distance: ‘Hunger and the Welfare State: Food Insecurity Among Benefit Claimants in the UK’ (October, 2021)

The research provides us with more clear ideas on what to lobby and campaign for. Here are the 7 Key Conclusions from the research, which we will aim to highlight and campaign for throughout our projects:

1.It is not possible to talk about food insecurity in the UK without talking about benefits.

Among working-age people who are food insecure, 52.9% are claiming income/work-related benefits; and among people who are severely food insecure, 62.1% are claiming benefits.

  • The just-announced Household Support Fund will not compensate for the end of the £20/week Universal Credit uplift.

 A £500m fund can only make up for the loss of £20/week for 1m households (probably 1.3m adults). Even if the fund is targeted perfectly, it cannot cover all of the 1.7m who were severely food insecure, and can cover less than half of the 3.0m who had any food insecurity. The end of the uplift not only risks more people falling into food insecurity; most UC claimants already in food insecurity will lose £20/week as well. 

3. While keeping the £20/week UC would help, a significant fall in food insecurity would require a broader increase in the level of benefits. COVID-19-related changes (including the £20/week uplift) were associated with an improvement in food security among UC claimants compared to those on legacy benefits who did not receive them. But they are a sticking plaster on a broader problem: even with the uplift, half of UC claimants were food insecure, and around one-quarter were severely food insecure. Even among UC claimants receiving the £20/week uplift and not subject to any of the policies that raise the risk of food insecurity (described below),we estimate that 29.4% were food insecure, and 16.1% were severely food insecure.

 4. To reduce food insecurity, the under-occupancy penalty and the benefits cap should be abolished.

The research makes it clear that food insecurity is higher among people subject to these policies. 

5. To reduce food insecurity, less money should be deducted from people’s benefits, and the five-week assessment period for payment in UC should be abolished. 

While the researchers recommend reducing the level of deductions to repay past debts, they assert that it would be better to design a system that did not lead to incurring these debts in the first place – including getting rid of the ‘five-week wait’ for payment. 

6. To reduce food insecurity, the DWP needs to better help people deal with their wider debts. 

If benefits are to provide an adequate income, then claimant debt must be taken into account – e.g. by better providing or signposting to debt advice, and making claimants aware of the ‘Breathing Space’ scheme.

7. To reduce food insecurity, policymakers need to make sure that disabled people receive adequate benefits.

 ESA claimants did not receive the £20/week uplift, and probably as a result, the research found that their levels of food insecurity have sharply increased during COVID-19 relative to UC claimants. 

Campaigns we support 

We are committed to campaigning for meaningful changes to address the causes of inequality and poverty but we are also passionate about increasing public uptake of schemes and support services which already exist to alleviate hunger and increase food security. We attend regular Greater-Manchester wide meetings and working groups to ensure we pass on up-to-date and useful information to the people we work with and to ensure a joined-up and well-informed approach to our work.  Throughout our community projects, we highlight and signpost people to the following support: 

  • Increase the uptake of Healthy Start Voucher Scheme

We support the expansion of the Healthy Start Voucher Scheme proposed in the National Food Strategy, and we aim to support an increase in uptake of the scheme throughout all of our community projects. 

How you can help 

  • Read more about how you can help here
  • Share this eligibility calculator amongst friends, family and professional networks: https://endchildfoodpoverty.org/healthy-start
  • Download this Healthy Start Toolkit from Tameside Council and share it in your community. 

  • Poverty Truth Network

‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’ is the starting point for this incredible network which helps to get the voices of people who have real experience of poverty heard. 

  • #KEEPTHELIFELINE

We support the campaign to reverse the recent £20 a week cut made to Universal Credit which affects over 320,000 households in Greater Manchester,cutting their incomes by up to a fifth as the cost of living is set to soar. Follow the link to find out more.

  • End Child Food Poverty Now

The #endchildfoodpovertynow campaign, endorsed by Marcus Rashford, has succeeded in campaigning for increased value of Healthy Start Vouchers and the extension of Holiday Activity and Food funding. 

  • Veganuary 

Throughout the year, Veganuary encourages and supports people and businesses alike to move to a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering, and improving the health of millions of people.

  • Sustain’s Real Bread Campaign

Campaigning to make food better for people, our communities and our planet. At Cracking Good Food, we are passionate about ‘good bread’. Our expert bread-maker Rob, who teaches all of our bread making courses (‘Breaking Bread’, ‘Our Daily Bread’ and ‘Festive Bread’) declared war on Warbutons many moons ago! You can see a taster video of Rob’s bread-making here: 

https://vimeo.com/423676332

  • Love Food Hate Waste

Did you know that around 1/3 of edible food produced in the world is not eaten? Since 2020, Cracking Good Food projects have used more than 25 tonnes of perfectly good food destined for waste to create nutritious meals for the Greater Manchester Community. At every cooking session we run, there are hints and tips on how to minimise food waste, and we even run an educational programme for secondary schools called ‘Tackling Food Waste In Schools.’ 

Love Food Hate Waste’s website offers tips, advice and challenges to raise awareness and support people to reduce their food waste!