One of a countries most fundamental responsibilities is to protect its citizens from going hungry. Most of you reading this have grown up with the assumption that if you ever fall on hard times their is a safety net to protect you from complete destitution and hunger. For a lot of people in the UK, that safety net has massive holes in it and they are slipping through. These people, usually on low incomes have made sacrifices, bought cheaper and cheaper food, and even buying less of the cheap food until families are living on one meal a day. 500,000 children in the UK are now living in families who are unable to provide a minimally accepted diet. The UK has one of the highest levels of housing costs in Europe, energy prices are rising and the most vulnerable people are on the minimum wage with some only managing to secure 0 hour contract. The government is failing its people.
If you read the last edition of Garden cultures UK food policy, you were presented with some facts and statistics. I said that in part II we would try to look at how we can resolve the issues, it turned out to be such a hard job, our government hasn’t even started looking at ways to resolve the issues let alone implement any policies. Rather that put money into opening more food banks as a long term solution, they need to look at why people are having to use them in the first place. Here are a couple of recommendations that I have come across during my research for this article that the government could implement.
All political parties should commit to fixing the safety net system as the core of the social security system.
The commission of independent systematic research into the reasons for referrals to food banks and the underlying reasons behind the need for food aid. Based on the findings, the government should implement an action plant to address the issues raised in the report.
The removal of the minimum wage and the implementation of a living wage.
A review of zero hour contracts and methods to make those contracts fairer to employees that need minimum hours so they can earn the living wage.
There are many more recommendations that could be proposed, but the above would be a good start in sorting out the metaphorical safety net and closing the gaps that our lowest paid citizens are slipping through.
Another question I wanted to answer was;
Why has this been allowed to happen?
The following is an opinion of mine formed through research of online articles and statistics.
Firstly, UK food policy should be how we can become increasingly self-sufficient and produce food sustainably. However it seems the UK food policy is more interested in selling more “British” food to other countries and pumping money/investments into hi-tech solutions to produce more food to send abroad. I’m all for hi-tech agriculture when it’s to feed people in the UK, but it seems this Hi-tech solution is to make more food to send abroad and decrease the countries deficit.
The UK’s import bill is only increasing and with the food manufacturing sector being the biggest, it’s how the government can recuperate most of it’s money, therefore we send more food abroad to pay the governments bills. This system, although good for governmental coffers, is the complete opposite of what the British people need and is simply re-enforcing the current state of affairs.
The result is that the lowest paid citizens can’t afford proper food, but resort to £1 frozen meals and even then, not enough of them to fill a person’s nutritional needs. We are left with a society of malnourished and starving or obese people. That puts a strain on the NHS and we are being told that the NHS is struggling because of immigration!? I’d say that its a domino effect from failing government policies. It is a very complex issue that has taken decades to surface, where obesity and hunger exist in the same communities, the super rich use charitable donations to smooth over the cracks rather than filling them and a country that produces more than enough food, wastes millions of tonnes and yet still can’t keep people from starving.
Why is there so much waste?
One word, Supermarkets. They hold the power to reducing the food waste, the waste that costs us 12.5 billion a year, can you see the problem? If we could wave a wand and not waste 12.5 billion pounds worth of food, the supermarkets would also be 12.5 billion down in purchases. So they continue their buy one get one free promotions, multipacks and incessant advertising because 12.5 billion pounds is a lot of money.
There is a lot that can be done to effect change, information campaigns that leads to a culture change, policy changes such as landfill bans and ultimately the regulation of supermarkets.
We want a food system that advances our wellbeing, that increases job opportunities, is sustainable, has a positive impact on the environment and most importantly, makes food affordable to everyone. New technology will play a major role in getting us to this utopia of food production and distribution, I wholeheartedly feel that the hydroponics industry (You and me) will play a role far bigger than anyone currently imagines. We are the pioneers, the square pegs in the round holes, we see things differently and we need to challenge the current status quo.
Start with that leafy green salad in the fridge that’s about to go off…
Stephen Brookes - NPK Technology