Food poverty is not the fault of the industry, it’s the politicians we should blame. But the fact that so many people go hungry in the world’s fifth largest economy leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. And who better than the food industry to do something about it? Major progress is being made where food companies and brands seize the initiative. The campaigns to reduce and redistribute surplus food are a great example.
Such positive engagement brings with it many commercial benefits, including marketing content, brand reputation and staff motivation.
In London, research suggests that 500,000 children struggle for food during the school holidays. Holiday hunger is a hidden, Dickensian scourge. Some 1.3 million children in the UK qualify for free school meals, but there is no provision during school holidays. That’s 170 days of the year when children from poverty-stricken families have little or no access to healthy food.
Teachers report malnourished children returning to school after the holidays. Many will never claw back this disadvantage to fulfil their potential. Some parents skip meals to feed their children. Increased household and food bills cause stress and uncertainty, often leading to debt, poor diet and social isolation.
At the Mayor’s Fund for London, we played an important role in securing statutory funding for school food. Now we’ve turned our attention to the holidays. We have been piloting a new scheme to help community groups working with children in some of London’s most challenging areas during the holidays to provide healthy food. It’s proved highly successful, providing a healthy meal and more for less than £5 per child per day.
That’s why we launched Kitchen Social this week, a new type of campaign to bring together politicians, the food industry, foundations and communities to end holiday hunger.
Over the next three years Kitchen Social will identify and support 330 community organisations across London to provide good things to eat and do in the holidays. Additional benefits include learning about healthy eating, new skills, social inclusion and the development of staff, volunteers and local capacity.
Kitchen Social has already gained the support of the Mayor of London, Greater London Authority, many London boroughs and local communities. The Innocent Foundation is supporting the campaign and we hope will be the first in an alliance of food businesses, brands and retailers. We will share and develop the Kitchen Social model with the rest of the country.
We are calling on all grocery retailers, suppliers and brands, big and small, to join the campaign. You can do this in a number of ways: supporting a holiday club in your local community, lending your influence to advocate change, and helping to raise profile and funds.
The food industry has a great opportunity to help bring food hunger to an end. In return, I believe your business and brands will be stronger, and your people and the consumers they serve healthier. We would love to hear from you.
Matthew Patten is chief executive at the Mayor’s Fund for London