Six months on from the start of UK lockdown, Covid-19 continues to affect all our daily lives.
The impact on our food system has been unmistakable. From supermarkets’ inability to cope with rising demand at the start of lockdown, to government’s distribution of emergency food packages to vulnerable adults, to the steep increase in food bank usage. Covid is a food crisis that has demanded action from UK government, local authorities, charities and community groups nationwide.
The pandemic has underlined existing inequalities in London. Greater London Authority’s 2019 research into food insecurity found a prevalence in inner east London, as well as an association with people of Bangladeshi ethnicity, who make up a third of Tower Hamlet’s population.
It seems likely that Covid is exacerbating food insecurity, and provides some explanation of the need for 27 voluntary and community organisations in the borough to provide food aid during Covid. We remain in awe of their incredible efforts, but saddened that it’s been necessary.
Unfortunately things are likely to get worse. The ending of the national furlough scheme in October is likely to increase unemployment and put more people at risk of poverty. The Tower Hamlets Food Partnership, comprising over 50 organisations, is committed to learning lessons from Covid, and acting to rebalance these inequalities.
The Tower Hamlets Food Partnership have agreed six principles to guide our collective activities over the coming months:
- Take action on upstream solutions that will tackle the causes of poverty and reduce the burden on food banks, and influence/campaign for change at local, London and national level.
- Listen to those affected by this crisis, learn lessons from lived experience and put them into practice.
- Strive to identify people who are food-insecure and meet their immediate food needs. This includes those who have fallen into poverty since COVID-19 and respond to the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on BAME communities.
- Diversify food aid sources, to increase resilience, support local businesses and champion environmentally sustainable, culturally appropriate, ethical and nutritious options.
- Build the capacity of local voluntary and community organisations to provide a range of food services and projects, including community pantries, food delivery services, shared meals and cooking/nutrition training.
- Champion models of food provision that are sustainable, dignified, offer choice and provide pathways to other advice and support services.
Tower Hamlets Food Partnership members are committed to bringing these principles into food recovery decision-making. We are hopeful that they will help to shape a more equitable, sustainable and resilient food system for our borough.
JO WILSON, FOOD PARTNERSHIP COORDINATOR
Jo believes that food is a tool to improve the health of both people and place. A specialist in developing programmes, building networks and influencing policy, she is committed to shaping a greener, healthier and more equitable city.