Brighton & Hove Food Partnership have just submitted evidence to the long awaited national Parliamentary Enquiry into hunger and food poverty. In our submission, we argue that food poverty in our city continues to increase, with all its horrible implications for the health and – given the cost of poor diets to the NHS – the wealth of the city.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why food poverty is increasing, despite the supposed end of the recession. Rising prices, especially for ‘healthy’ foods such as fruit and vegetables, and rising energy bills play a huge part. We also hear many concerns around changes to welfare benefits, and benefit sanctions. Every time I hear that another £5 has been shaved off someone’s weekly benefits, I know it is all too likely this will come straight out of their food spend. If you are on a very tight budget, all too often food is the only flexible item.
Brighton & Hove has extraordinarily high rents and relatively low wages, with half of all households in the city earning less than £28,240 a year. We see this as an important factor in the increase in ‘long term’ food poverty, which is the grinding on-going experience of difficult choices between food and fuel, or food and rent or food and new school uniform.
More than a quarter of households in the city now rent from a private landlord – we have the 9th largest private rented sector in England & Wales. And our rents are among the highest in the country. For people who receive housing benefit, whether because they are unemployed or (as is more often the case) to ‘top up’ their low wages, the maximum housing benefit levels do not cover the majority of rents in the city. In short, three quarters of the households in Brighton & Hove (88,000) cannot afford to pay the market rate for housing.
The Food Partnership was asked to give evidence to the current Parliamentary Enquiry because of the highly regarded work we have been doing to understand food poverty, and we are increasingly being asked to share this work more widely. At a recent ’roundtable discussion’ on food poverty in the glorious, if not incongruous Palace of the Bishop of Chichester, we helped explore the relationship between food poverty and rising debt, and the increasing role of faith groups in picking up the pieces.
If you are experiencing food poverty in Brighton & Hove, please see our guidance.
The numbers in this blog are taken from Brighton & Hove City Council Housing Scoping Paper, 2014.