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LGA Response to the Government’s Food Strategy: June 13, 2022

Everyone should have access to healthy and affordable food. The strategy response represents a missed opportunity to tackle the underlying causes of a variety of issues, many of which will continue to be exacerbated by the growing cost of living crisis. Unless the government takes urgent action, health inequalities will widen and its ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030 will be missed.

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On 13 June 2022, the Government published ‘Government Food Strategy’ in response to the government-commissioned independent review of the food system, the independent “National Food Strategy” led by Henry Dimbleby, published in July 2021.

Henry Dimbleby’s review aimed to create a series of recommendations so that England’s our food system “Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food; regardless of where [people] live or how much they earn” and “restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country.”

The government strategy responds to the review with the following objectives to deliver:

  • A prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply in an unpredictable world and contributes to the levelling up agenda through good quality jobs around the country
  • a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all
  • trade that provides export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported

The paper also includes: 

  • A commitment to a land use strategy by 2023
  • A consultation on mandatory reporting by industry on health, and 'explore' the same on environment and animal welfare
  • A consultation on public food procurement, with the goal of 50% local or higher standard food

Key messages relevant to local government within this strategy

  • As previously announced in the Levelling Up white paper, the Government wants to spark a school food revolution by introducing a suite of measures to improve school food and develop schools’ food curriculum. This includes up to £5 million to deliver a school cooking revolution and a new pilot for local authorities to assure school compliance with school food standards.
  • The Government also wants to consult on public sector food procurement (Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF)). This consultation will include whether to widen the scope of GBSF mandatory organisations to cover the whole public sector and introducing an aspirational target that at least 50% of food spend must be on food produced locally or certified to higher environmental production standards, while maintaining value for money for taxpayers
  • The Government has also stated they will undertake a programme of randomised control trials to develop a suite of evidence based and value for money interventions to encourage and enable healthier and more sustainable diets.

LGA view

Everyone should have access to healthy and affordable food. The strategy response represents a missed opportunity to tackle the underlying causes of a variety of issues, many of which will continue to be exacerbated by the growing cost of living crisis. Unless the government takes urgent action, health inequalities will widen and its ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030 will be missed.

Many of the key recommendations and findings of Henry Dimbleby’s independent report have not been addressed, particularly around sustainability, food security and creating healthier food environments.

The strategy excludes the specific policies, recommended by Henry Dimbleby in the National Food Strategy, that were evidenced to help address the high and rising levels of food insecurity, diet related diseases, and carbon emissions, facing the nation today. It is disappointing to see that chapter 2, page 21, ‘Healthier and sustainable eating’ does not include any comprehensive measures or plans to address these issues and instead pushes the response to the upcoming Health Disparities White Paper.

Healthier foods for people are generally healthier foods for the planet. The food system is a significant contributor to climate change and environmental damage, for instance it is a major source of river pollution which has halted development of thousands of new homes.

Different foods have different impacts based on what is required to produce and transport them, how much food waste they produce and how that waste is managed,   Adjusting choices is one of the simplest and cheapest ways households can significantly reduce their carbon footprint.  Prioritising the awareness, accessibility and affordability of local sustainable options will enable a wider range of households to make healthier choices for themselves and the planet.

Councils can work with communities to provide leadership and promote sustainable food production and positive choices, but there is much more Government can do to bring about change. For instance the consultation on environmental targets regarding nitrate and phosphate pollution from agriculture are not ambitious enough, and there is not sufficient support and incentives to help the industry achieve these targets.”

Obesity and diet-related health issues are one of the biggest public health challenges we face, with the cost of treating obesity-related ill health forecast to rise to £9.7 billion a year by 2050. Health inequalities in England are stark and have deepened as a result of the economic impacts of the pandemic. Poor diets are often driven by financial insecurity and poverty, as they are, per calorie, cheaper than healthier options. As a result, the prevalence of obesity in children in the most deprived areas continues to be more than double that of those in the least deprived areas. We are disappointed that the strategy failed to address these key challenges.

The Free School Meals (FSM) system, the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme and Healthy Start vouchers and other initiatives are an important component of the support that is provided to low-income families and the broader work to tackle health inequalities and rising food insecurity.

One of the ways these challenges can be met is for the Government to expand access to these schemes to ensure more families on low incomes can access fresh fruit and vegetables, this could be achieved through automatic enrolment to Free School Meals and Healthy Start Vouchers.  In addition to this, increasing the income threshold for both schemes to include all children who are facing food insecurity and poverty would help in addressing diet related inequalities resulting from low-income.

We are urging the Government to act now to ensure healthy food remains affordable to those who need it the most to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

We hope the Government uses the opportunity of the long-awaited Health Disparities White Paper to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis and its detrimental health-related impacts to protect the most vulnerable in society.

Recent economic announcements

We are pleased the Chancellor recently acted on calls by the LGA, councils and partners to increase and extend the Household Support Fund to the end of this financial year.

Extra support to mitigate the impact of rising energy bills and funding for those on the lowest incomes, who are disproportionately affected by price rises, will help ease the pressure on household budgets this year. It is good that this support is going through the mainstream benefits system, enabling councils to focus on targeting their help towards those facing the greatest need.

These measures must be accompanied by a longer-term solution to addressing wider cost of living pressures such as rising food costs and reducing the need for further emergency support.

In the long-term, we need to ensure that the adequacy of the mainstream welfare system is sufficient to prevent health inequalities and food insecurity.

Next steps

As we have set out throughout this briefing, the Government food strategy is light on detail, and we believe it is a missed opportunity to address key health issues such as increasing levels of childhood obesity and food insecurity.

There are also many links to be made with the upcoming Health Disparities White Paper and we await further action to alleviate these issues to be set out within this paper.

We are keen to work with Government to deliver a sustainable long-term solution to ensure that everyone, regardless of income, can access healthy, affordable and nutritious food.