The welfare reforms, including the bedroom tax launched on 1 April 2013, have also had a devastating impact and, for many people in dire straits, the easiest thing to cut back on is food. End Hunger Fast is promoting a national day of fasting on 4 April to campaign against food poverty.
The following facts look at malnutrition in London, and how the capital compares with that of the rest of the UK when it comes to food poverty.
There are over 196 places people can get food for free, listed on the London Food Map. Since this new resource went live, 207 businesses offered to supply food, and 97 charities offered to redistribute it.
A GLA report (PDF) from August 2013 estimated that over 70,000 children in London go to bed hungry ‘sometimes or often’. Two in five of the parents interviewed for the same report admitted they had had to cut back on food spending in the last 12 months; a third had cut back on buying fresh fruit and veg to spend money on frozen meals, and one in five parents had skipped meals to make sure their children had enough to eat.
Households in London spend, on average, £57.90 on food per week (ONS, PDF). But roughly one in five employed people in London survived on less than £8.55/hour between 2010 and 2012. In 2012 more than half of Londoners (adults and children) living in poverty were in households where one or more adults worked.
The Trussell Trust said that 63,367 people ate from their three-day emergency food supply between April and December last year. This is a 400% increase compared with an even bigger period (April 2011-March 2012) two years before. There are over 39 food banks in London, many of them run by the Trussell Trust. The charity has Christian roots, but will help people of any faith (or none) if they’re struggling to afford food.
Most food banks recognise that people in poverty usually have to choose between spending money on food or power; as Walthamstow’s local food bank charity calls it, ‘Eat or Heat’. Food bank users are now offered kettle boxes (boxes of food that only need a kettle to make a hot meal) and cold boxes (for those who can’t afford to heat the kettle).
Cases of malnutrition in England have nearly doubled in the five years to last December, but in Camden cases of malnutrition increased almost nine-fold, from six in 2008 to 53 last year. The Department of Health reported that Hillingdon, Brent and Barnet saw five-, four- and three-fold leaps respectively. A spokesperson from the charity Kids Company commented: "There’s a level of denial over the Dickensian levels of poverty seen in boroughs like Camden".
London has also had people fasting for political reasons — the most historic were suffragettes in HMP Holloway. The Women's Social and Political Union even awarded medals to hunger strike survivors. Most recently, London-based Chinese relatives of those on the lost Malaysian plane MH370 have threatened to strike if it’s not found. As well as protest, hunger strikes also constitute a symbol of solidarity — read more about the End Hunger Fast on 4 April.
Where’s your nearest food bank, and what do they need?