As a society, we have seen a sharp increase in the cost of food over the last 18 months. Staples such as eggs and milk have risen by 37% and 33%, respectively, compared with 12 months ago. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced in April that the annual inflation rate for food stood at 19.1% – close to record highs – with even the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, admitting it was ‘worryingly high’.
As food price inflation hits close to a 45-year high, food poverty has become a reality for many families and individuals across our region. Rising prices are having a daily impact on the food Bath and North East Somerset residents can afford to buy for themselves and their families.
Whilst Bath and the wider region is often considered prosperous, there is in fact deep inequality here. Food poverty is increasingly a risk, or a reality, for many of our residents. This disparity is well illustrated by the fact that BaNES is ranked as low as 269 out of 317 Local Authorities in England for overall deprivation. Whilst BaNES may present as one of the least deprived in the country, two areas in the region fall within the most deprived 10 per cent nationally.
In their 2022 Strategic Evidence Base for Bath and North East Somerset report, BaNES Council estimates across the region there are 4,000 people who will fall into absolute poverty in 2022/23, of whom 1,500 are children. This is an alarming figure and skyrocketing food prices are impacting – and will continue to impact – a far greater number of residents than this. In fact, in a BaNES 2022 survey of Children and Young People’s Health, carried out across 39 primary schools, 10 per cent of pupils said they had not had anything to eat before they started their lessons on that day.
Research has clearly shown the impact that nutritious food has on a child’s brain development, behaviour and academic performance at school, making food poverty a significant contributor to the striking educational attainment gap in BaNES. This is why St John’s Foundation has pledged to support the children attending their Primary Empowerment Schools who are not entitled to free school, to have the opportunity to access free hot meals at school until July 2024. It is so important that families struggling to put food on the table receive support to help them through the cost-of-living crisis, which, in turn, supports their children to thrive at school.
St John’s work goes further than free school meal provision – they are also working with other local stakeholders and national organisations to eradicate the need for emergency food provision and address the inequalities in educational attainment across Bath and North East Somerset. Through the Nutritious Food and Safe Places programme, funding is awarded to FareShare, as well as several other local projects, to deliver food to families, food banks, food clubs and pantries that provide access to nutritious food to those who need it most in the area.
This considerable uptake seen from this programme, paints a picture of the circumstances in which some of our families and children are living day to day.
Organisations are working to remove the stigma attached to the receipt of support for food poverty so that local communities can access healthy, affordable food in a dignified manner. The BaNES Food Finder provides a list highlighting food clubs and pantries available in Bath and North East Somerset provided by organisations offering affordable food or emergency food parcels.
Even with the incredible work being delivered by local organisations and charities across the region, modern-day hunger still exists. St John’s will continue to work along our partners to eradicate food poverty through projects and campaigns that change policy and practice at national and local levels.