What next for emergency food support in Brighton & Hove?

In March 2021 as we reached one year from the first Covid-19 lockdown and started the journey along the ‘roadmap out’, it felt timely to conduct another snapshot survey into the number of people being supported with food in the city. The snapshot gathers data on the number of households and individuals being supported by food banks, free meals (delivered and collected) and other models of free / very low-cost food such as ‘pay as you feel’ or food clubs.

What is clear from the findings is that household food insecurity is a very concerning ongoing issue for Brighton & Hove with 5310 people (including 1300 children) receiving support with food each week.

If they all stood in a line using current social distancing guidance it would be 6 and half miles long. It would stretch from Rottingdean to Hove Lagoon. Whilst looking at the data as a whole is important, we always remember that each person has their own story of how this food insecurity impacts on their physical health, mental wellbeing, educational achievement, and life chances and that this should really be a queue for a better solution not food.

The data we collected covers:

29 emergency food (parcel) projects. 5 of which also provide meals with the parcels. The nature of these projects varies with two Trussell Trust run food banks, a citywide food bank service run by the Children’s Centres (for families with a child under 5) and 26 independent food banks run by community organisations, faith groups and mutual aid groups.

With 1825 households receiving food parcels each week this is a slight reduction from the July 2020 figures but that is still more than 4 times the number being supported before the pandemic in 2019.

Support is also provided through food vouchers given out both via the Council’s Local Discretionary Social Fund and to families entitled to Free School Meals in the holidays / when schools were shut. A cash or vouchers first approach is one we advocate as this gives people more choice over their food and without these vouchers it is very likely that the number of households needing support would be much higher.

We also have information from 7 affordable food projects. These are new models that the Food Partnership helped establish with funding secured from the Big Lottery Coronavirus Support Fund. They have been open between 4 and 6 months and are already supporting 323 households (500 adults and 285 children). A small membership fee is paid – with no set number of weeks people can access the project for – and people can choose the items they want / need. These are shaping up to be an important part of a more sustainable, neighbourhood response to access to healthy food. For example a headline that jumps out of the research into impact that we are just completing is that 74% of people surveyed say they are eating better within their budget.

We also have data from 8 projects providing meals (about half of which are delivered and half collected). Whilst there are many more shared meal settings in the city that we expect will re-open come 17th May, these are the projects that have remained open during lockdown.

Again, there is a range of options including a full weeks-worth of meals delivered (East Brighton Food Co-op), take away options (Real Junk Food Project), weekly or bi-weekly delivery (Bevy Bites and Food and Friendship) and specialist services such as the Lunch Positive Support for people living with HIV. Between them they are feeding 1225 people and serving 3200 meals a week.

What next?

Forty-four is a lot of groups but having food support offered by locally rooted organisations is a huge strength with communities of location and interest helping each other offering social connections as well as food.

We will continue to work with the amazing group of people within the Emergency Food Network offering them training, access to food and resources, opportunities for peer-to-peer support and a person on the end of the phone to help when things go wrong or you want to celebrate a success. We will play a bridging role helping to communicate to the Local Authority, advice organisations and the business sector about the issues and what will help.

But we are concerned that this safety net that stretches over the city, held together by many very small, volunteer run projects is not sustainable. They take on a huge responsibility for raising funds and sourcing food to feed vulnerable people. Taking an average value of a food parcel as £19 (based on July 2020 Food Bank Research from Brighton & Hove) going to 1825 households that is £34,000 worth of food being given out each week (this is just the parcels not the meals or food clubs). So where we can we will work with them to apply for funds and help funders understand their importance.

We will also keep campaigning for the things that prevent food poverty – a Living Wage, secure employment, affordable housing, and benefit levels that mean people can afford to eat. People need money not food bags and that needs a long-term change in national policy. Which is why, along with Brighton & Hove City Council and others across the country, we are calling for a change to the law to include a Right to Food (similar to the current right to healthcare or housing) and we encourage you to get involved in this campaign over the coming months.

Covid-19 exposed many inequalities in our city, and the sad fact is, they’re not going away any time soon. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership were here before the Covid-19 crisis and we were able to help when the unexpected hit in 2020 because of YOUR amazing support. We need to be here for whatever comes next. Thank you to everyone in our city who helped in the last year. Please consider making a donation if you can.

Full details on where projects are and how to refer to them

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