All 270 staff employed by Autograph, the caterer contracted by Brighton & Hove City Council to deliver the citywide Primary School Meals Service, will from this month be paid the Real Living Wage. These school cooks work tirelessly to ensure 11,500 meals are served up in 64 schools across the city within 90 minutes every school day.
We want to congratulate Brighton & Hove City Council for pushing this goal of paying the Living Wage through, especially at such challenging times. We hope other food businesses will follow suit.
Why is this such important news? One of the things that the Brighton & Hove food strategy has focused on is food poverty, and we are particularly concerned by the irony that many of those employed in the food industry – including in retail, catering, food processing and also agriculture – are those who are most at risk of food poverty.
We have submitted a response to Defra’s landmark consultation on future farm policy ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’. We want the very low wages in the food sector to be considered as part of this. Otherwise our food system is simply unsustainable.
The large number of people already experiencing household food insecurity (one in five people in our city, rising to one in three people with disabilities or health conditions, and in younger age groups) need to be able to access affordable food. If they can’t, even more people will be tipped over into the extremes of hunger and very poor nutrition. As well as the immediate misery this causes, it will also create a huge public health bill in the future.
While cheap food helps people who are struggling to get by, if food is ‘too cheap’ then it damages wages in the food industries and agriculture, and often it damages the environment too. So what is really needed is properly priced food that pays a fair wage to farmers and producers. Alongside that there needs to be measures to ensure that everyone, including those with the lowest incomes, can afford to purchase food at fair prices.
This requires fair wages, good employment prospects, a fair benefits system for those who can’t work and adequate affordable housing.
The whole system needs to be addressed.
We strongly support the following comments collated by Sustain on using Public Money for Public Goods which are all vital and central to our city’s food strategy.
We agree that vital environmental outcomes should include improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing biodiversity. Water and air quality are vital too. We are also keen that public support, including money invested from our tax contributions, should ensure better animal welfare and vibrant rural communities and economies. We would like to see the Government adopt measurable targets for delivering on these objectives, not vague promises.
We are worried there is a gap. You ask for other ‘public goods’ that the Government should support. The list of ‘public goods’ must include ‘public health’. This could include support for activities that:
- contribute to healthy diets by reducing the health and economic cost of diet-related disease and making sustainably produced, fresh food available, affordable and accessible to all, specifically with more and diverse fruit and vegetables available and with production based on sustainable methods;
- create better jobs and decent working conditions for workers in food and farming;
- help farmers phase out producing products we should be reducing in our diets, such as sugar;
- reduce or eliminate risk of food-related diseases (such as E.coli, salmonella, campylobacter);
- require fresh, healthy and sustainably produced food in schools, hospitals and other public sector institutions via public procurement measures, as well as helping diverse and sustainable farmers to access these contracts;
- encourage growth in acreage of beneficial farm systems that can deliver some – or all – of these outcomes such as organic, agro-ecological and agro-forestry.
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