Food poverty is one of the greatest scourges of our time, with a record 1.6 million food bank parcels being provided to people in the last year (April 2018 – March 2019).
Rachael Maskell MP
York may appear to be a rich city with a booming tourist industry, but poverty is real – and growing. According to recent figures from the End Child Poverty Commission, 6,254 children live in poverty in York. Referrals to Trussell Trust foodbanks in York increased by more than a quarter (25%) between 2017 and 2018, with a significant proportion of referrals relating to benefit changes, delays or sanctions.
The York Food Justice Alliance was founded in April 2018 by Adrian Lovett (Good Food York) and Dr Maddy Power (University of York). At the time there was no single organisation coordinating conversations and provision around food poverty in York and, with growing poverty and rapidly rising food bank use in the city, it was felt that the need for such an organisation was urgent. The Alliance brought together organisations and individuals in local government, academia, business and the third sector to better understand and tackle food poverty in York. It was funded by Food Power and the City of York Council, with specific project-based funding from the University of York.
I would encourage more people to get involved with their local food alliance as it is about so much more than food poverty: this has been a year of building community, food and fun, talking, playing, being shocked at people’s stories and getting this all out in to the public realm through lots of media work too.
Rosie Baker, York Food Poverty Alliance
Food Insecurity Research
Between April 2018 and June 2019, the Alliance co-produced research and policy on food insecurity in York. This included a survey of parents with children aged four to 11 years; focus groups with low income York residents; evaluation of food aid provision using surveys; and an audit of food aid provision across the city of York using interviews, internet research and ethnography.
The research revealed food poverty to be a widespread, hidden issue in York – and one not fully reflected in existing data on food bank use. While 24% of parents with young children had experienced food insecurity, only 8% of parents had used a food bank. Among households with an annual income of £16,100 or less, 64% had experience of food insecurity, suggesting low income is a key risk factor for food poverty and insecurity in York. Focus groups with low-income residents revealed personal experiences of food poverty. Participants described in work-poverty and talked of having to visit multiple budget supermarkets and rely on reduced items to make their funds stretch far enough. Participants with experience of Universal Credit highlighted systemic problems with the new benefit: reduced personal freedom and agency, and lower income than in the previous system – or, in some cases, no income at all. The long wait for Universal Credit payments was cited as a key cause of food poverty and insecurity. There was widespread concern about rising prices, particularly for healthy food, placing further pressure on household budgets and restricting the amount and type of food that could be purchased.
The full results are published in the report, Seeking Justice: How to understand and end food poverty in York, in a detailed evaluation of the food and activity programme during the school holidays, and in forthcoming journal articles.
Community Reporter Film Project
Being actively involved in York Food Poverty Alliance has helped me not feel alone and vulnerable or isolated, but empowered and encouraged that others are there to talk to and share their own experiences. This has been an encouraging journey, one which should be allowed to grow, develop to a wide-reaching audience and to help others like myself and my two children.
Sydnie Corley, Expert by Experience and ‘Have Your Say on a Plate’ coordinator
We firmly believe that people with personal experience of food poverty should be at the heart of – leading – efforts to tackle it. The Community Reporter Project raised awareness of the opinions and experience of people with food poverty and involved them in the development of a food poverty strategy in York.
Seven low-income parents with young children took part, collectively and individually documenting their experiences of food and affordability. Children from a local junior school were linked into the project through a TV interview about their new Community Fridge.
Policy development and impact
Co-developed policy recommendations to tackle food poverty in York were launched in July 2019 and communicated with the local authority. The policy recommendations are on pages 16 and 17 of the Seeking Justice Report. We have been pleased to see the establishment of a Food Poverty Scrutiny Group within the local authority, a key recommendation of our final report. At its AGM in September 2019, two individuals with lived experience of food poverty, Sydnie Corley and Mary Passeri took over as Co-Chairs of the Alliance.
Our Challenges and Learning
The development and management of the Alliance was not without its challenges. At times, member organisations had competing priorities and timescales and, as a result, careful negotiation, respecting the varied needs and resources of members, was required to ensure that the Alliance functioned as a collective. Given the subject, food poverty, it was questionable whether a university could and should lead the alliance. However, the perceived neutrality and respect associated with the University of York may have mollified local politics and grassroots grievances, and widened the appeal of the alliance.
Working with experts by experience is fundamental to the integrity and sustainability of any food poverty network or research project. However, we found that it takes time, commitment and money (staff costs) to develop firm and genuine relationships with experts and to embed them in the governance and strategy of the network.
Finally, there is considerable local media interest in food poverty and in and in the community response. The Alliance received extensive media coverage, including interviews and features, on BBC Look North, BBC Radio York, YorkMix TV and the York Press. Notwithstanding the benefits of media interest, caution is required in ensuring that this media coverage does not focus on the ‘Big Society’ element of local food aid – a key interest of local media – at the expense of the structural causes of food poverty.