A healthy diet is beyond the financial reach of 3.7 million children in the UK: it’s time we addressed the inequalities in our food system

These are shocking statistics – I expected the situation to be bad, but not as bad as this. The Government seems to believe that as long as people continue to spend the same proportion of their household budget on food that everything is OK. There is no consideration as to whether they are actually spending enough to protect them from the life-long consequences of diet-related disease.  And this research shows they’re not.

Just a quick summary:The Food Foundation  compared the Government sponsored research on the cost of Public Health England’s  Eatwell Guide with Government data on household income. We found that the poorest 20% of households with children would need to spend 42% of their after-housing budget on food in order to afford the Eatwell Guide. 3.7 million children live in these households. It’s  not surprising, then, that we have such a marked difference between rich and poor in terms childhood obesity rates.

This affordability work forms part of a na

tional Inquiry into Children’s Future Food being led by a cross party group of parliamentarians.  We are inviting submissions from all those who work with children and young people for evidence for the Inquiry which can be submitted here.

So what are we proposing?  The full Inquiry won’t report until 2019, but in the meantime we are calling for proper measurement of household food insecurity.  Emma Lewell-Buck MP is putting forward a Bill on measurement which has considerable support in the Commons. It’s due for its second reading on October 26th but only if it gets support from the Government.

And what about food prices? No, we don’t think the cost of food should go down. Farmers in the UK are already squeezed enough. And no, we don’t think we should be going all-out to secure cheap food trade deals and sacrifice quality, animal welfare and farming standards along the way.  But we do think

that there is lots of scope to help poor households access healthy foods, whether it’s by expanding the existing Healthy Start scheme which is soon to be up for Government consultation; by expanding entitlement to free school meals, as well as meals during the school holidays; or by extending  schemes like the School Fruit and Veg scheme. There’s lots to learn from the roll out of similar programmes the USA, which have had significant impact.  And we do think we should be moving away from promotions on foods which are high in fat,sugar and salt; and focusing promotions on healthier foods.

It’s a sorry state of affairs we’ve reached when putting a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table is a luxury or sending the children to eat at their grandparents’ because the money has run out is a regular necessity. The data in this report, relying exclusively on Government sources, shows how serious the situation has become.