Why we urgently need to tackle food poverty

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By Kerry Melville, Coordinator, Belfast Food Network

Nearly 9000 people have received food parcels from independent and Trussel Trust food banks over the past two years in Belfast, as they could not afford to feed themselves or their families. This is a serious issue that has been rapidly increasing over the past decade, yet there is little political recognition of the problem.

Many households have difficulty in accessing an adequate diet, with parents increasingly skipping meals in order to feed their children. The Belfast Food Network recently commissioned the ‘Enough is Enough’ scoping survey to find out the scale of the problem and to identify the reasons behind the growth of food banks in Belfast. Carried out by Jenny McCurry on behalf of Advice NI, and funded by the Public Health Agency, the survey identified low-income as the main reason people collected food parcels – meaning that people in work cannot afford to feed their families.

This was followed by benefit cuts, delays and sanctions. Advice workers highlighted the failings of the social security and tax credit systems that leave families without crucial income, leading to increasing referrals to food banks.

Food banks are a crucial emergency response for people in dire need. There are also excellent projects, such as Fareshare NI and FoodCloud, which collect surplus food from industry and redistribute it to charities that provide meals to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including low-income families, and homeless people.  However, these projects should not become the ‘solution’ to food poverty.

They don’t tackle the root causes of why a person is unable to afford healthy food or why there is such a phenomenal amount of food waste in the first place.

There is absolutely no justification for people going hungry in such an affluent society, where food is regularly thrown away. People should not have to rely on charity to feed their families.

The Belfast Food Network is working with a range of organisations to develop a collaborative response and invites all concerned organisations and individuals to join us in trying to make healthy, nutritious food more accessible to everyone in Belfast.

• The report can be accessed at www.belfastfoodnetwork.org/

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