Boris Johnson must take drastic action to tackle London’s systemic poverty

The social safety net has failed when parents are unable to feed their children


Jeremy Paxman’s first question when interviewing the Prime Minister during the 2015 General Election campaign was about food bank usage. This highlighted the scale of this growing problem. The election may be over, but for those relying on food banks for their next meal the issue has not gone away.

It is difficult to see how things will improve unless we see an unlikely change of heart by the incoming Conservative government.

Looking at the figures for London alone, there were a record 104,799 visits to Trussell Trust food banks in 2014/15. When these figures are broken down, it reveals 40,043 visits were to support children. This represents parents all over London in the desperate situation of not knowing where their children’s next meal is coming from.

In 2011/12, 4,489 of the allocations of emergency food aid were on behalf of children. This was already too many, but the 2014-15 figures effectively represent a 792% rise in the emergency provision by food banks for children since 2011/12 in London.

So what responsibility does the mayor of London have for tackling this? Well, quite a bit. In 2013 the Mayor launched his 2020 Vision for London. I had just led an investigation into food poverty in London which resulted in a report with cross party support from the London Assembly called ‘A Zero Hunger City: Tackling Food Poverty in London’.

As a result of my recommendations, the mayor incorporated a ‘Zero Hunger’ pledge into his 2020 vision. This centred on the priority of ensuring that no child goes to school hungry by 2020, as well as a wider commitment to eliminating all hunger and reliance on emergency food aid in the capital.

To mark the two year anniversary of the publication of the ‘Zero Hunger City’ report, I released a follow up film in March of this year that documented the continuing rise of food poverty. It highlights the reasons behind food poverty as complex, and stem from factors such as low-paid work, underemployment and changes to benefits.

If the Zero Hunger pledge by Boris Johnson is to achieve anything, then drastic action is needed. The Trussell Trust figures make it very clear that reliance on emergency food aid is increasing year on year and is showing no sign of abating, just 5 years away from the 2020 target.

As a society if we cannot ensure that our children are fed, then the safety net we have in place is clearly not working. Initiatives such as Magic Breakfast which provides school children with free and healthy breakfasts are welcome. But you cannot address the issue of hunger without addressing the root cause.

Therefore tackling poverty and poverty pay and continuing to highlight the unfairness and inefficiencies in the benefit system is vital. This is part of the need to recognise that hunger is being caused by systemic problems.

I have been keen to stress the need to imagine and aim for a future without food banks. Fulfilling the ‘Zero Hunger’ pledge offers an opportunity to achieve this future and ensure that food banks, and the emergency provision they provide, do not become entrenched in our society or into the lives of our children.

The report by the All Party Investigation in to Hunger and Food Poverty came up with an extensive list of ways to tackle the issue. The current mayor and the mayoral candidates for the 2016 election need to meet the Zero Hunger pledge. It is all very well making pledges, but Londoners need action.

Fiona Twycross is a Labour London Assembly member. Follow her on Twitter @fionatwycross

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7 Responses to “Boris Johnson must take drastic action to tackle London’s systemic poverty”

  1. damon

    Who are the poor in London? People who are either unemployed or who struggle on low wages.
    As well as pensioners and some others of course.
    But why are rates of pay so low for most unskilled jobs?
    We’re told its nothing to do with the bottom end of the jobs market being cornered by migrants.
    Same with unemployment in London. But when I visit West End hotels to do deliveries, a greater majority of the staff seem to be foreign born, while up in Tottenham, contempories of Mark Duggan (shot dead by the police a couple of years ago) have a terrible work history and are unemployed for long periods.
    They’ve either not been getting the hotel jobs because of racial discrimination, or they haven’t been applying for them.

  2. JoeDM

    Uncontrolled immigration has kept wages in our country low.

  3. James Chilton

    To understand Boris’ ‘boosterist’ function, as Lord Mayor of London, it’s helpful to have read Sinclair Lewis’ book, Babbit.

  4. Leon Wolfson

    Food banks are a myth.

    If you offer food for free: people will take it.

    If you increase the amount of food you are offering for free: more people will take it.

    Surprise surprise, we increase the number of food banks and now we have more people using food banks.

    The idiocy of the left wing

  5. Charlatans

    Just seen this clip on Guido – Jeremy Corbyn wins the award for a straight answer to a straight question, (GMB sponsored hustings today)! He looks like he might be getting some support from Andy and Yvette, but in reality their answers were as clear as mud!

    Bet you do not see this clip on the Beeb!

  6. Chris Goodman

    Sau that to the people that live of 20 pounds a week who can’t pay rent let alone shopping stop being so damn ignorant why don’t you take a drive around the poor areas of the uk because you clearly haven’t left your Roch penthouse or London home in a damn long time

  7. Patrick Nelson

    Lie “Food Banks are a Myth” – the idiocy of the right wing.

    Truth “Conservative Party is Evil”

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