Food Insecurity during COVID-19 Second Wave

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 27th October 2020.

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Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Is enough being done to prevent Londoners from becoming ‘food insecure’ during this second wave of COVID-19 which will coincide with increasing unemployment and job insecurity?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

London’s already high levels of food insecurity have risen during the pandemic and I am very concerned about further spikes in the coming months. That is why I have been working with central and local government and voluntary and community sector partners to do three things: monitor demand for food aid across London, ensure all local authorities have a food transition plan in place, and help central Government partners to understand and unlock the resources local authorities and voluntary and community sector partners need to support Londoners in the months ahead.

I am particularly concerned that a number of Government funding streams are coming to a close just as food insecurity may be about to rise again. Local authorities’ initial response to COVID-19 was based on the assumption that the costs incurred, for some boroughs running up to £80,000 per week on food alone, would be reimbursed, but this has not happened. We cannot assume local authorities will be able to respond in the same way without that guarantee.

I will continue to work with the London Transition Board and the Strategic Coordination Group (SCG) to ensure the focus on this issue is not lost. The Government must also, Chair, now reimburse local authorities fully for the cost they have incurred to date and make funding available to support them and their voluntary and community sector partners to meet the food needs of vulnerable Londoners in the months ahead.

It should also be clear that food insecurity is a manifestation of poverty and the tools to tackle this lay with the Government. More needs to be done to ensure all Londoners who need it can not only access the food they need in the months ahead but are supported to escape financial hardship.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor. As you rightly say, food insecurity and poverty were rising before the pandemic hit and what this pandemic has done is highlighted the precarious nature of many Londoners’ finances.

This week is London Challenge Poverty Week and today the focus is on children. You and I have campaigned for the extension of free school meal entitlements to cover school holidays, as have child poverty groups and individual food and insecurity and poverty campaigners such as Marcus Rashford [MBE, professional footballer], but I am quite tired of having to do that every time a holiday is coming up.

Do you agree with me that with the October half term coming up the Government should say it is going to allow those entitlements to be extended over all holidays while the pandemic is taking place? The Welsh Government announced yesterday that it will do that up until next Easter.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, can I, as the Mayor of this great city, pay tribute to Marcus Rashford, a Manchester United player. It pains me to say so as a Liverpool fan, but he has been brilliant in relation to his campaigning. It was his campaigning that led to the U-turn from the Government in relation to free school meals for children during the summer holidays.

I am really concerned because this October half term for some children will be two weeks rather than one. That means that if you receive free school meals in normal school term time, for two weeks potentially you may go without a decent, hot, nourishing meal. It is really important that the Government therefore provides the support needed for those families to receive free school meals for their children during the half term.

Also, let us not wait until December to start discussing the Christmas holidays and let us not wait for Marcus Rashford to have a campaign. We need to lobby the Government. Look, half term is next week. Many families are thinking about what they are going to do in the half term. It should do what the Welsh Government has done and say that during the half term this entitlement that these children, some of the most vulnerable, have will continue during that half term.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you for that and thank you for the promise to lobby the Government on this issue. I would be also grateful if you could lobby it to perhaps extend free school meal provision to cover all those families perhaps that are in receipt of Universal Credit or other equivalent benefits. As you said earlier and as your letter to the Government clearly states today, those particular families are in a financially precarious situation.

You mentioned also the fact that the Government has not funded local authorities for the work they did during the first wave of COVID. With a second wave now happening, what does the Government need to do to support not only local authorities but also the wonderful community and voluntary sector, which really stepped up over the last few months and has really delivered food in particular and support to the most vulnerable people in our communities?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Yes, it is a really important point you raised and I also echo your comments about the voluntary and community sector, which does an amazing job in this area.

Look, the point I make to the Government is that our councils in London are suffering a massive funding gap between the money they have spent in extra costs and the lost income. It is about £1.4 billion gap for our councils. Similarly, many in our voluntary and community sector have not been able to do the fundraising they do because of COVID-19. The marathon runs, the sponsorship there, the autumn fairs, the summer sales and the various events they do they have not been able to do. They are already struggling with the monies they normally have. That is why it is really important the Government steps in to support councils and community and voluntary groups.

Also, I would say to those supermarkets and food providers who are doing very well that they should think about whether they can also contribute towards foodbanks. Many foodbanks, as you know, rely upon the contributions of surplus shopping by ordinary people. Many families are struggling to even feed their own families without doing these additional surplus shops to give to foodbanks. We have a perfect storm here where there is the greatest demand for foodbanks and help but foodbanks and others have a real shortage of supplies. That is why it is so important the Government steps in to support these vulnerable families.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you and thank you for your lobbying efforts. It is appreciated.