Councillors across Bath & North East Somerset have agreed to work with local organisations to help tackle the issue of food poverty across the area.
The thousands of people receiving food bank parcels every year are just the most visible aspect of food poverty locally, say councillors, who are calling for the creation of a Food Poverty Action Plan for B&NES.
Councillors have agreed to work with local organisations, bringing together expertise and experience through the Policy Development process, to come up with robust and effective guidance for the Council’s actions.
Councillor Ruth Malloy (Weston ward), who proposed the motion to Council, said: “This is an incredibly complex issue with many causes, but we cannot ignore that food poverty is on the increase and we must ask ‘why’ and ‘what should the Council do to help? ’
“If we think of food poverty, we’re likely to think of a family struggling with financial hardship, due to rising living costs and welfare changes, having to turn to a food bank to tide them over.
“However, there’s a wider picture, taking in people who live in food deserts, where they can’t access healthy and affordable food, those who lack cooking skills, and families affected by ‘holiday hunger’ when there are no free school meals outside term time.
“We are fortunate in B&NES to have so many local organisations involved in local food systems and supporting people in crisis.
“We need to learn from their invaluable work and take their advice to see where the Council can usefully contribute and add value.”
B&NES Council adopted a motion requesting a policy development investigation to come up with recommendations.
An amendment, which sought to direct the policy development process, was not agreed to.
Councillor Rob Appleyard, Lib Dem Cabinet member for Adult Services and Health, commented: “We’re calling for a Food Poverty Action Plan to be developed with local organisations and experts.
“Labour want to pre-empt this thoughtful process. Their hearts are in the right place but we shouldn’t be making policy on the hoof.
“I’m glad to agree to working towards a refresh of the Local Food Strategy; this will give us the chance to refocus on some of the key issues around food poverty, local food systems and education.”
Labour’s Spokesperson for Food Poverty, Cllr Liz Hardman (Labour, Paulton) said: “While I welcome the fact that the Council will now be putting together a food poverty action plan, this goes nowhere near far enough.
“Hunger in our communities is such an immediate crisis we cannot delay. I am very disappointed that Labour’s ideas, which would have helped to address this urgent and growing problem, were rejected by the Lib Dems”.
“The use of food banks is increasing at an alarming rate and growing numbers of people in work are finding themselves having to turn to food banks.
“In B&NES in the last year, thousands of people used a food bank. However, food banks, whilst addressing the urgent need to feed people, are not a solution to food poverty. People should not have to rely on charity to access food.”
Campaigner, Jane Middleton who made a statement at the meeting, added: “I was desperately disappointed to see the Labour Group’s amendments to the food poverty motion rejected.
“Food poverty is not an issue that should be viewed through a party political perspective.
“The B&NES Lib Dem administration would have sent a very strong message if it had accepted at least some of the Labour Group’s amendments, all of which were based on best practice elsewhere and on the advice of those who work in this field, such as Sustain, the Trussell Trust and the Food Foundation.
“While I am pleased that the food poverty action plan will now go forward to the scrutiny panel I am concerned that much of the brief discussion in the Council chamber focussed on mapping local provision and ‘refreshing’ the old food strategy.
“We need so much more if the structural causes of poverty are going to be tackled”.