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Sally  Sally Young, Chief Executive 

In summer 2018, I was asked by the Newcastle Voluntary Sector Liaison Group to provide a paper around food poverty in Newcastle. Newcastle City Council had done a significant amount of work in relation to their response to the impact of Welfare Reforms. Newcastle was the first city in the UK to experience full service Universal Credit.

I wanted to do a paper that provided a nuanced approach; not just refer to the well-known West End Foodbank, which is the largest in the UK and the well-respected People’s Kitchen which has been active for over thirty years, but how other organisations approached the obvious rise in food poverty. Also, and indeed more importantly, how did food poverty affect people and particular communities?

I asked voluntary sector members of the Liaison Group about their organisation’s experiences and also about the people they worked with. It was never intended to be a comprehensive piece of research about every network and offer. In fact, our previous experience of producing a leaflet about foodbanks, ended when a number of organisations asked us to withdraw their information as they couldn’t cope with the numbers of people asking for support.

Newcastle CVS often acts as the ‘canary in the coal mine’; we pick up bits of information, evidence, data, stories that indicate a bigger issue. Our reports from 2012 onwards have often raised food poverty and what this meant to the health and wellbeing of people and communities.

The study shows how many ‘mainstream’ organisations changed how they worked to incorporate a response to food poverty – offering food as part of the offer, basing activities around a meal, having to issue vouchers (for the foodbank) and deliver food parcels.

The case studies show where the voluntary and community safety net worked; and people were found in time so that they didn't go days without food.  The case studies we can't know are where people slipped through, as some surely did and do, and individuals and families are going hungry.

There is a real danger of normalising what should be an abnormal, and unacceptable, situation. We have accepted ‘holiday hunger’, where children are going hungry as they don’t get access to a school meal; the street soup kitchens that have sprung up in the city centre run usually by faith groups; the queuing for a food parcel; the boxes in public places (often food supermarkets) asking for food donations.

But the key issue is not response, creativity, generosity and kindness but one of policy. A month after the first draft was written, Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Newcastle and the West End Foodbank. His statement reminds us that

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy…….a fifth of the population live in poverty……to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one."

Read the full report: Food Poverty in Newcastle : the voluntary and community sector view and response  

Join in the conversation online: #PoorandHungry