At a meeting of Medway Council on 25 April 2019, the Council requested a detailed report from Public Health team to the Medway Health and Wellbeing Board. This report determines the extent (if any) of food poverty within Medway and what action could be taken to facilitate the concept of food justice within Medway.
The report sets out the related local data to indicate the levels of food poverty across Medway. It also highlights key elements of local action and possible options that could be progressed to address the issue of food poverty.
This report set out the initial findings of the review to determine the extent of food poverty within Medway. In accordance with the Department of Health’s definition of food poverty, it was explained that food poverty was a multi-faceted and complex issue which encompassed the inability to access or afford good quality food. Reference was made to the baseline data set out in section 3 of the report as well as existing local activity to address food poverty set out in section 4 of the report. It was concluded that the data available suggested that levels of food poverty in Medway were comparable to other areas with a similar profile but more work needed to be done to address the issue. As such, it was recommended that a detailed action plan be developed.
Members expressed concern at the high number of clients accessing the Medway Food Bank and noted that there were other more informal voluntary and charitable arrangements within Medway which also provided residents with food. Examples included informal food banks established by faith based groups and the Medway Street Angels. A Member requested that the action plan recognised the role of the Council and its partners, including Healthwatch which, as representative of service users, had a key role to signpost to local services. It was also asked that the action plan be developed at pace and be brought forward to the Board in November.
Board Members recognised that food poverty was a complicated issue and there was a need to address the root causes such as lifestyle factors, levels of deprivation and accessibility. It was suggested that there was a need to understand in detail the circumstances of the clients accessing Medway’s Food Bank, including whether the situation was permanent or temporary and the causes of people’s difficulties. A Member commented that past conversations with the Trussell Trust had revealed that delays in receiving Universal Credit payments was the main reason individuals needed to utilise the Food Bank’s services.
In relation to the enhancement of the Tri Cookery programme as detailed in paragraph 4.5 of the report, it was requested that, subject to resourcing within existing budgets, this be pursued.
Concern was expressed that the Public Health team were unable to replicate the Holiday Kitchen – Cook, Eat and Play programme which had previously supported 750 families during the school holidays. In response, the Board was assured that, nationally, funding had been provided to schools to deliver their own school holiday food programmes. With respect to state-funded nursery and primary schools, a Member commented that increasing the number of pupils claiming free school meals that were eligible was challenging. He was interested to understand the picture in secondary schools.
In view of the comments made, the Director of Public Health undertook to complete a mapping exercise to inform the action plan and provide an update to the Board at their meeting in November. He would also establish whether there was a resource to deliver the enhanced Tri Cookery Programme. He explained that owing to the timescale, further work might be needed to complete the action plan. He was also mindful that a new National Food Strategy would be published in 2020 which might not fully align with the action plan. A Member expressed the view that in completing the review and action plan ahead of the Strategy publication, Medway would be in a good position.
The Health and Wellbeing Board:
a) noted the information included within this report and discussed as set out within the minute how the Board and individual member organisations could continue to support the food justice agenda, identifying priority actions which included the enhanced Tri Cookery programme set out in paragraph 4.5 of the report;
b) requested the Director of Public Health take into account the comments of the Board and develop an action plan to tackle food poverty which aims to ensure children in low income families have appropriate access to food 365 days per year and all Medway residents are able to gain physical access to foods that promote physical and emotional health and wellbeing;
c) requested that in compiling the action plan, budget requirements be assessed; and
d) requested that an update be provided to the Board on 5 November 2019.