Food insecurity during COVID-19

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 3rd June 2020.

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Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

What support are you providing to support the increasing number of Londoners going hungry during this pandemic, and what further support is needed as we enter the recovery phase?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London): Thank you, Chair and thank you for the question. Food banks and food aid charities are doing incredible work getting food to those in need. However, they have seen unprecedented demand and a big fall in contributions. The Trussell Trust saw an 81% increase in demand for emergency food packages in the last two weeks in March compared to last year. Use of independent food aid networks and London food banks increased 68%. I have called on Londoners to donate to food banks and volunteer where they can and when it is safe. I am so proud that Londoners came forward to help. I have asked supermarkets to provide the Food Aid charity with unrestricted online access to obtain food they need. We are also supporting the SCG food sub-group, overseeing setting up community hubs in every London borough, allowing the London Food Alliance to direct food supplies to front-line charities needing them.

Since late March, the London Food Alliance has distributed 1,500 tonnes of food to 1,500 organisations. That is around 3.8 million meals. In addition, the first round of London Community Response Fund grants supported voluntary and community organisations to buy food and other essentials so they could keep providing vulnerable Londoners with access to food. I will do everything I can to support their work, but demands on the emergency fund and sector are a sign of deep underlying problems that must also be addressed.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor. I was going to ask about whether you would write to the Government regarding extending the voucher scheme for those children entitled to free school meals, but I am very pleased you have indicated that you have already written and asked for that. It is a scandal that children in our city are going hungry. Your office, with London boroughs and community organisations, has really stepped up and supported those food banks and other networks, but what further support is needed to ensure they can offer the support that is needed for the short but also the medium and longer term?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thanks for the question and all that you do in this area. One of the big issues is those receiving benefits, the delay in getting them, those who applied for Universal Credit. The Government could give cash payments now, not a loan, but cash payments now. A big issue is those who have no recourse to public funds who we know are struggling. Some of the families that Jennette [Arnold OBE AM] referred to are families who have no recourse to public funds, who are literally going hungry. The Government could change the rules now during this period to allow them to have recourse to welfare benefits and other support they need as well. Another thing that the Government could do is to change the local housing allowance in relation to some of the concerns renters have, who are renting as well.

We know a lot of the voluntary and community sector that usually fundraise - the London Marathon and other things - to pay for services have not been able to do that, so the Government really has to step up and help. They are losing billions of pounds because of the inability to congregate and raise funds via jumble sales, fairs and marathons. If we allow them to go under, that is a big problem, but also they need their staff. They cannot be furloughing their staff, so the furlough scheme needs to be adapted to help them as well. Look, it is really important the Government speeds up the announcement of the £750 million so it gets to the coalface as soon as possible.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you. A coalition of charities, including the Child Poverty Action Group, the Children’s Society and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have called for a temporary coronavirus emergency income support scheme because they, like you, recognise that many people actually do not have savings and are at great risk of defaulting on rent and mortgage payments. Will you support that request and make that request to Government?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am happy to look at the details. As I say, it sounds like a no-brainer to me. Let me look into that and then publicly show my support for that.