Coffee House

We need a recipe to solve food poverty

20 December 2012

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the Opposition touted food banks as evidence of Britain’s regression into a Dickensian era. With 128,000 visitors passing through the Trussell Trust’s doors last year, today was not the first Wednesday on which the Government has been blamed for more children going hungry and more families struggling to put food on the table. But why are food banks multiplying at a rate of three a week and are they really a workable solution?

One answer is that organisations such as the Trussell Trust can now place their leaflets in jobcentres. In addition, unlike under Labour, food banks can now receive referrals from a range of sources such as Community Nursery Nurses, Headteachers, and Health Visitors. But there are also structural reasons for a surge in food banks.

For decades, food and politics have been kept quite separate. Supermarkets have been left to deliver cheap food and shoppers have come to expect the shelves to be piled high with asparagus in December and parsnips in June. Food policy was forgotten and the average home came to waste 30 per cent of the food in their kitchens. But this Golden Era is over. With our food system increasingly globalised, our high reliance on imports, climate shocks, and populations in South East Asia following in our calorific footsteps, over the last 5 years, food prices have risen by 32 per cent whilst certain items such as potatoes have rocketed in price by 116 per cent.


With food prices likely to rise further we need a recipe for a perfect storm. Not only will a potential 6 per cent year-on-year rise drive up inflation, it will also be a nasty thorn in the side of the Chancellor as he grapples with the Treasury’s annual benefits bill.

And it is families that matter the most. More and more frequently, parents in my constituency are telling me they’re skipping meals to ensure their children aren’t going to school hungry. But I’m afraid I can’t join my Parliamentary colleagues in their congratulatory praise of food banks. They certainly offer a life-line to those at a point of crisis. But they are a symptom not a long-term solution to food poverty.

What we require are innovative means to support families on the lowest incomes who are really struggling. We need a suite of policies to ensure families are resilient and able to manage and adapt to food price hikes.

The food industry will need to recognise its wider responsibility to society and consider how it can encourage families to make sensible choices on a tight budget. Too many families believe the age-old myth that healthy food is more expensive than high-calorie, high-carb food. A public information campaign to promote de-bunk this myth would make a real difference.

But cooking from scratch requires skills and know-how. If we are to really dodge a Dickensian back-slide into nutritional recession, Government will need to recognise the invaluable importance of children learning from the earliest age how to prepare food and cook balanced tasty meals on a budget. Substituting more expensive or out of season ingredients can help cut costs and opting for less used meat cuts of fish can help reduce the weekly spend. Food must be put firmly back on the curriculum in our primary schools. Being able to feed yourself on a budget is an essential life skill and arguably as important as numeracy, literacy or science.

With food prices only going in one direction – up – we need skills, Government commitment, and industry will-power to ensure food-banks do not become mainstream or a reality of economic austerity.

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  • eeore

    You could try making inflation actually match the cost of living and use interest rates to drive down prices, rather than fuel inflation.

    You could also acknowledge that the ‘globalisation’ of food production is largely a series of excuses to mask the wider game of using food as a weapon.

  • EAF

    1) Shop at markets, not supermarkets.

    2) Meat reduce. Don’t have to turn veggie, but follow Pollan. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”

  • Daniel Maris

    This article seems to be mixing up several different issues in a really rather annoying way.

    1. Farming policy. I agree that we should be doing more to grow our own food but it has little to do with food poverty.

    2. Food poverty is really a consequence of general poverty and social/personal problems e.g. alcoholism.

    3. “Climate shocks” – what are they? If the planet is getting warmer there will be a huge increase in cheap food production in places like Canada and Siberia.

    4. Improving cooking skills can help at the margins but they are hardly likely to prevent food poverty. Subsidising the cost of basic foods, providing good nutritious meals in schools, reviving the British Restaurants that fed millions during and after WW2 and food specific welfare cards would be more effective – assuming food poverty really was your main concern.

  • Daniel Maris

    An interesting interest registered by the MP in question:

    “Name of donor: Sunley Farms Ltd
    Address of donor: Godmersham Park, Canterbury CT4 7DT.
    Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £2,750.
    Donor status: company
    (Registered 7 June 2010)”

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Sandys is amongst the crassest most sycophantic individuals on the Tory back benches (good job daddy was an MP). Why is it every article she writes seems to highlight the problem without really coming up with any real answers? Why is it full of corporate clone speak and devices without saying anything of real substance and without actually committing to anything. Its like one of those nouveau cuisine dishes of the 1990’s. It looks pretty on the plate but is not filling or nourishing and afterwards you can’t really remember what it was that was actually on the plate in the first place.

    Why is it she seems to glibly accept the core issue as unaddressable that is causing the problem (in this case inflation much of it down to profiteering by Supermarkets who have are attempting to recover their losses from other ventures) and in doing so snidely attempts to push the blame onto voters (of course we are all too thick to cook for ourselves and budget properly)?

    Unless these ‘A-list’ Tory MP’s realise that inflation and punitive policies such as the current energy policy and minimum alcohol pricing are a serious problem which voters expect them to address many like Sandys (whose seat is vulnerable) are going to find themselves dumped on their condescending complacent and generally overly rotund arses at the next general election!

  • Secret Seed Society

    Oh how I agree Laura. Food skills, habits and appreciation are learnt young, those people who are engaging and helping families to cook healthy food need support. As Oxfam found out years ago giving food only affords tempory relief, giving a seed can give people purpose, skills and a life. Food banks are wonderful for the former but sharing skills and knowledge are needed for the latter.

  • turdicus

    There is no food poverty nor is there child poverty, there is a lot of irresponsible parents who spend their benefits and or wages on fags, booze and drugs, then there are people whose pride stops them moving down the housing ladder because of their changing circumstances. if you are running a car you are not in any kind of poverty, if you have spent your life claiming benefits you may have a shit life but the only poverty you suffer from, is in the self respect department.

  • James Mumford

    presumably that should read ‘less used meat cuts OR fish’?

  • MathMan

    Solve food poverty. Easy. Get them all to sell their mobile phones and buy food. Simple.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Perhaps the govt could face the undeniable fact that inflation for poor people has no relation to the headline rate. Everything you HAVE to buy is going up rather faster than a couple of percent. Government is the source of most of that problem. But they ought not to be thinking of solving it at a micro, family, item price level. They ought to get the economy right. My own particular prescription is cheap energy, for much of the energy price is due to regulatory activity and bad decisions.

    Now, what would be the price of food at world, rather than EU, prices?

  • E O Anthropus

    Welfare state = failure

  • patricia

    How much does a suacepan of soup made from three carrots, a cup of lentils, a large potato and an onion cost ?
    I have every sympathy with people trying to feed a family today, but I believe we have lost basic cooking skills in favour or fast food.

  • Hamish McCallum

    The most useful and relevant first step here would be to repeal in its entirety the Climate Change Act, and to dismantle (preferably without compensation or delay) the whole structure of subsidies for “renewable” energy sources. The deliberate escalation of energy prices to appease the millenarian fantasies of (largely well-off) greens is a direct, and intentional, attack on the poor. It is despicable.

  • HooksLaw

    its strange how beggars in the street can always seem to afford a dog. Have you seen the price of dog food?

    • toni


      Maybe the dog is their only friend and companion. Maybe the dog protects that vulnerable person from assault during the night when he’s asleep in a cardboard box in a shop doorway.

      When you stoop to even demonise beggars on the street you demonstrate perfectly the absolute myth of compassionate conservatives.

      Shame on you.

      • Swiss Bob

        Nah, its the approx £5 a week extra dole money for having a dog.

    • mcclane

      If they have a dog they can’t be forcibly rehoused in a hostel. These places don’t allow pets.

    • Magnolia

      I think this is a wind up.
      Anyone can see why a homeless person would want a dog for company.
      In Italy there are stray dogs and cats everywhere and it’s very upsetting.
      A homeless dog would soon find company with those out on the streets and they’d keep each other warm. Homeless together.
      I find it more un-nerving to see the middle class families up to their eye balls in debt, often with two cats and two dogs all to feed as well.
      A big dog takes a lot of meat to feed and then they often have the nerve to lecture us on expensive renewable energy projects to save the planet/poor.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Labour Lies. Get me some fags while you’re down the offie . .

  • Fox

    Tonight the family are having oven roast mackerel with pasta in a tomato abd basil sauce. 2 mackerel @ £1.15 each, kilo of pasta 90p, jar of lloyd g sauce £1. 4 fed for £4.20. much less than a whopper meal. Very few are living in ACTUAL food poverty.

    • HooksLaw

      You could make your own sauce with a can of copped tomatoes and a bit of herbs – less than 40p. I can never figure out who buys the branded expensive cans.

      • fox

        Me it seems. My home made sauce is tops (and cheap) but contains red wine. Always feel if i give it to the kids the health nazis will cart me off. Still stand by my view on food poverty though

        • Magnolia

          Alcohol is destroyed in the cooking process leaving only the valuable nutrients of the wine in your sauce. Why not add a few fresh basil leaves from a pot of growing basil which can be kept on a sunny windowsill for many months and planted out in the garden during the summer. Morrisons sells a pack of x6 fresh tomatos for £1 and just adding a few fresh tomatoes will make the taste of your sauce sublime.

      • MirthaTidville

        I agree……many think the only type of meal available is a ready made one from the supermarket. They even do ready made Mash FFS,,,,they need to get off their arses and cook…it aint rocket science and you dont need state training…I dont believe the food poverty myth either

      • MichtyMe

        Agree, I do the same, am sometimes surprised how little I spend on food. All meals are “cooked from scratch” often using home grown veg, I am not poor, its my preference. But I am an elderly ascetic with simple tastes and doubt my dietary habits would suit busy young families.

    • dalai guevara

      Pasta? I sense immigrant Italian influence… 😉

  • @PhilKean1

    The recipe to solve food poverty

    (1) – A Proper Conservative Government with proper Conservative policies

    (2) – A sustained war against the forces of Socialism

    (3) – Withdraw from the EU

    (4) – Immigration controls

    (5) – And MOST IMPORTANTLY, a preparedness to accept that SOME will WILLINGLY inflict hardship on themselves and their families by refusing to live responsibly and accept work once we have taken the necessary action to withdraw their state benefits.

    In other words, we MUST be willing to witness hardship if we seriously want to help people in the long run.

  • HooksLaw

    The notion that food is too expensive to afford for people on benefits is a joke. Good food can be bought at reasonable prices.

    • Magnolia

      I do not agree with your statement.
      I would struggle to feed myself well on job seekers allowance and I am a practised cook but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and help people to manage their diet in a better way because as Labour told us, ‘there’s no money left’.

      • fox

        You can’t think of it that way. Those on job seekers genarally have a chunk (all) of their housing costs met, council tax met, don’t have to worry about commuting costs and mortgage related insurance etc. You subtract all those from your post tax income and see whether you have 250 quid left a month to feed your family. I barely do and im on about 45k – Well over average wage.
        I feel very sorry for those who genuinely seek work and can’t find it at the mo. That said at the height of the boom unemployment stood at 1m approx. Little sympathy there

  • blunttrauma

    we need decent benefits not cooking skills.

    • dorothy wilson

      However much is dished out in welfare if the recipients do not have household management skills it will never be enough. And if they learn household management skills, including cooking, they might improve their chances in the labour market.

  • Magnolia

    When my children were small I used to rely on pre-prepared food because I was so short of time but I started to notice that the food bills were increasing rapidly.
    I then learnt how to cook just by reading a recipe on a food packet or picking up a free supermarket one and just gave it a go. A lot of my old student days tricks came back to me and I have been able to keep the supermarket bills fairly static for the last ten years now just by adapting. In the old days i was also tempted by a lot of the non-food stuff in supermarkets which I am very cautious about now. My main gripe at the moment is the rapid increase in the price of toilet paper or ‘bathroom tissue’ if you prefer because it’s all gone up at the same time and by about 100%.
    Schools are a good place to start for families. I believe that every child should have the school dinner and that it should be wholesome. Modern kids are so fussy they miss out on decent grub. Could the school kitchens open during the evenings for the parents to do a community cook and eat family meal?
    Here’s another really cheap meal, buy two 4pint bottles of whole milk for £3 (organic M&S) and heat up slowly in a very large pan/jam making pan. At boiling point throw in natural yogurt to curdle (add lemon juice if necessary)and drain off the curd through a clean wet tea towel, saving the whey. Press out the moisture from the curd with weights and plates. Put in the fridge and cook by cutting up and frying. This can be used in any way you like but it’s good with salad, pasta and curry.
    The whey is a good base for soup and can be used with lightly fried onions, red lentils and bacon for a fantastic filling thick soup and it’s all very cheap.

  • Duke of Earl

    There is no food poverty in the UK. Food is cheap and a family can very easily feed themselves with 2 earners on the minimum wage.

    The last thing we need are ridiculous state programmes to help people who spend their money on fripperies and refuse to take responsibility for their life choices. And it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach cooking and nutrition, as well as choose suitable substitutes. Not the govt!

    I will admit though that prices have been rising fast, but you can put the blame for that squarely at the Fed, BoE and BoJ who have been exporting inflation worldwide with their money printing.

  • dorothy wilson

    In her younger days an elderly lady of my acquaintance worked as an adviser for the Electricity Board. She traveled around her county demonstrating food preparation and cookery. In my younger days the then Farm Institutes had Rural Domestic Economy and Home Economics departments. The staff there ran courses in food preparation and cookery. America had the Extension Service where the remit covered not only agriculture and food production but also home economics.

    Perhaps we should pass some of that responsibility over to the supermarkets. Instead of spending vast sums of money on people like Jamie Oliver trying to persuade shoppers to spend their money they could be given the responsibility of running courses – in their stores – for those on limited budgets. The overall aim could be to train people, particularly those on benefits with children, to manage their budgets, to cook properly and prepare nutritious food that does not cost a small fortune. In other words, good old fashioned home economics.

    Over to you Ms Sandys.

  • Ian Walker

    The politicians answer is to pave over the fields to build houses. That way we can have more mouths to feed, and less food to do it with.

    • HooksLaw

      There is no linkage with that. There is enough space for houses without losing agriculture and there is enough space for most housing on brownfield sites. As we see today planning restrictions are strangling us.

      • Ian Walker

        No, unrestricted immigration without adequate infrastructure investment is ‘strangling’ us.

      • toni

        What is agriculture’s worth to this country?
        Why are hill farmers claiming £28K a year for rearing a few sheep, and allowing them a lifestyle of their choice courtesey of the taxpayer?

        Stuff your ex toxic brownfield sites. Families want some space, fresh air, a view and a nice big garden for their children to play in safety, enabling them to suck up all that Vit.D and ensuring their healthy future.

        Your joking about planning are you? People are livid about relaxing the rules allowing any manky construction to be put up next door or down their street.

        Stop being such an apologist for everything this lot churn out, you embarrass yourself.

        • dorothy wilson

          And you have been – and presumably still are – an apologist for a Labour administration that, when Becket had responsibility for food & agriculture, had a note on a website to the effect that we did not need to grow any of our food. It could all be imported. And with the decrease in the value of the £ not least because of the deficit left by Labour the price of imported food has gone up.

          The Aussies have the right idea. They consider agriculture to be a primary industry.

          • toni

            As you appear to have unlimited time enabling you to saunter around the stores comparing prices at M/S, Farm Foods, Aldi, and the local market, you are checking all the labels and buying only home grown products I trust?

            • dorothy wilson

              I do not have “unlimited” time. In fact it is because I am so busy I have to use my time effectively especially as I live in the countryside and have to make a eight mile journey into the nearest shopping centre of any size. I thus have to buy effectively including from my local butcher and from the local market where local produce is sold. And surely that is what every sensible person does. But, of course, for anyone who is driven by a blinkered political agenda such considerations go out of the window. And it doesn’t seem to occur to them that when people are on benefits time is the one thing they do have.

              • toni

                Blinkered agenda? Moi?
                This blog caters exclusively to those with a blinkered agenda as can be evidenced by a majority of the comments posted, and the rabid responses to those with a differing opinion.

  • toco10

    Given one can purchase a family sized chicken for less than the price of a packet of cigarettes I agree entirely that strenuous efforts should be made to encourage both adults and those currently at school and college to develop the skills necessary to prepare healthy meals at home rather than purchase ready meals and takeaway food.

    • Swiss Bob

      Three chickens for the price of a packet of cigarettes if Tesco still do two for a fiver!

  • Colin

    I recently contributed to a food bank in Richmond Upon Thames, of all places! That said, if the people responsible (the last labour government) for the mess we’re in think the sentient public are gullible enough to swallow their lies, they could be mistaken.

    As I’ve written before, blaming the coalition for the mess we’re in is like blaming George Marshall for the second world war.

    Cameron really needs to up his game on calling out the muppet show for their collective failings during the thirteen years they were in power.

    • Ian Walker

      It’s a Labour myth that the entire south-east is chock full of ‘toffs’. One of the most deprived wards in the country is in Tunbridge Wells.

  • John_Page

    Labour MPs also raised questions about fuel poverty at PMQs. One reason for the rise in fuel prices is deliberate government policy on renewables and “carbon” smugly supported by MPs of all parties.

    We need a breakdown of the budgets of some of the families using food banks. Food is not necessarily the problem. They spend money on other things too. Prices rise in other areas. There’s nowhere they can go for cheap electricity (thanks, MPs), but they can go to food banks and get free food. So using food banks helps make the family budget go further, but it doesn’t follow that the cost of food caused the budget problem in the first place.

    So can we have a modicum of analysis, please?

    • Bishop Hill

      Don’t mention fuel poverty. Laura Sandys is one of those Tory MPs who wants more “renewables” – i.e. higher energy prices.

      • Ian Walker

        Maybe she should start up some ‘windmill banks’ where poor people can get those little paper things we used to stick in sandcastles, and hook them up to the Xbox?

      • 2trueblue

        Remember who signed us up to the unreachable carbon emissions levels? IT was Liebore.

        • morpork

          Justin Liebore had nothing to do with it. I wish follically-challenged commenters such as 2trueblue would desist from attacks on popular Canadian pop singers who just happen to have more floppy hair than them. This only detracts from the real issue: the poverty of real poverty issues. Only Polly Dutt-Pauker in the Guardian seems to be dealing with this issue in a meaningful way, albeit one that many do not seem to understand.

          • 2trueblue

            Your pick and mix reply is incomprehensible.

  • Swiss Bob

    I really find it hard to believe that this is anything but more Labour smears.

    How does anyone go hungry in the UK today? Parents are clearly in receipt of more than enough state handouts to feed their children so if children are going hungry it is failings of the parents and their children should be taken into care, except that going hungry would then be the least of their problems.

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