23 May 2022
Breadline Voices: A food desert in the Garden of England
By Dominic Watters, Single dad, Kent
"I am a single dad. I live in a council estate block in Kent with my amazing daughter. We survive off universal credit, child benefit, and free school meal vouchers.
"There is one shop on the estate, and it only stocks the lowest quality food and nothing fresh. The closest supermarket is two miles away, and many of my neighbours aren’t as mobile as I am.
"Our access to only poor-quality food, on many levels, reflects the deprivation of where we live. This is a food desert in the garden of England and in this way, food is more than what we eat.
"It symbolises a system that continues to fail us, a system that leaves many of us hungry and unheard. ‘Us’ being the poor in this rich city.
"Those living in poverty across the country have been in a cost-of-living-crisis for as long as I can remember. It’s only now that the price rises are impacting the middle classes this issue is getting coverage.
"Thanks to the work of Marcus Rashford, I received a £30 free school meal voucher for the holiday period. This voucher came with both a sense of gratitude and despair knowing the limited amount of food it will afford my daughter.
"The uncertainty riddled existence that poverty inflicts upon you mirrors that feeling you get when you’ve left your phone or keys on the train, but continuously. That’s the best way I can describe it, to live with food insecurity is to live with a sense of vulnerability and hunger all the time.
"There really is no such thing as a free school lunch. Sir Michael Marmot rightly points to the impact poverty has on your wellbeing with feelings of hopelessness, being slighted, and a lack of dignity within a system of intersecting state mechanisms that feel like they are designed to keep you where you are.
"Where I am, my council estate, has simultaneously dimmed my horizons and formed my commitment to challenging social injustices.
"The only outside space we have is a balcony. Inspired by the work of Ron Finely the Gangster Gardener, I began to use the balcony to grow fresh herbs, tomatoes, and yellow courgettes.
"Growing vegetables during Covid lockdown restrictions and cooking with them felt like on some small level I was combating our lack of access to nutrition.
"At the same time, I was working with children in care who were relying on food donations and trips to the food bank for their sustenance.
"Every Thursday a delivery of leftovers from Greggs bakery was received with such delight that it made me consider how their struggle resonated with mine.
"Yet these young people were only allowed the Greggs choice-picks if they had obeyed the rules of the scheme that week.
"It struck me how food can be a vessel for power. But these young-people-in-care have corporate parents – the Government – who are financially secure, so why are they experiencing food insecurity?
This is part of Breadline Voices, a series from The Food Foundation highlighting the realities faced by millions of families plunged into food and fuel poverty as food prices reach a 40-year high.
I am a single dad who lives in a council estate block in Kent. Surviving from universal credit, child benefit, and the free school meal vouchers Marcus Rashford passionately campaigned to extend, I discuss my experiences of poverty and food insecurity not only to provide an insight to professional bodies but also to campaign for change in policy so that the understanding and awareness of this inequality is deepened.