The Co-op Party is calling on local authorities across the UK to appoint ‘food champions’ to tackle food poverty.
Today it launched a new online tool, the Food Justice Finder, where people can type in their postcode to find out if their council has a food champion and works with a food partnership.
The Party launched its Food Justice Campaign last year to tackle the growing problem of food poverty, worsened by a decade of austerity. This year the problem has been made worse by the Covid-19 crisis, prompting retail co-ops, community businesses and co-operative councils to play leading roles in initiatives to get food to those in need.
Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council leader and Labour’s leader on the Labou Local Government Association, said: “Councils have taken extraordinary action to fight food poverty during the pandemic.
“But in the face of an economic downturn that could spell months or years of crisis, we need to support councils to implement long-term systemic change in how we deal with food poverty in our communities.
“By taking the lead in coordinating the charities, businesses and community groups all wanting to do their bit to combat food poverty, we can make sure the incredible efforts of the past few months are the foundations of a more sustainable future.”
The Party’s new tool is based on data found through freedom of information rules and other research. It says the tool “spotlights and congratulates councils who have a food champion and food partnership, and helps members of the public engage with councils who haven’t yet taken both steps”.
At an online launch by the Party today, Labour/Co-op councillors from authorities across the country shared their experiences in pushing the Party’s food justice agenda.
From the Labour-led Oxford City Council, Cllr Marie Tibdall highlighted initiatives such as teaching cooking skills to young people, using community centres to distribute food and working with partners in the city to create a network of street champions, with the council offering a single point of contact for those in need of help.
Labour/Co-op councillors sitting on Tory-led authorities told how they have pushed the food justice agenda from the opposition team. Cllr Su Aves – who sits on Devon County Council – said she and her colleagues had put pressure on the Conservative leadership to push the food justice motion through cabinet; it is set to go before full council in December.
Cllr Jack Abbot, a member for Suffolk County Council, said the area had seen an increase in food poverty under Covid-19. But the ruling Conservative group had offered a sympathetic ear to the food justice motion and unanimously approved it. A cabinet member for food justice has been appointed and a programme coordinator has been hired, he said.
He urged Labour-Co-op councillors not to give up on the food justice agenda if they are in opposition because it enjoys cross-party support.
Responding to audience questions, the councillor agreed it was important to move the agenda away from charity and handouts to something more genuinely co-operative.
Cllr Tibdall said her council was working more closely with communities and, co-op retailers and local organisations. She said it was important to create a sustainable food system by providing funds for community food start-ups which could draw on local knowledge of different food cultures. Community gardens and allotments also have a role to play, she added.
Cllr Abbot said it was important to ask what makes an initiative a co-operative one. This can be done by building partnerships to work towards a sustainable food system.
A co-op initiative would work towards a circular economy, he added – for instance by reducing waste in the supply chain and persuading retailers to move away from two-for-one offers which often see food thrown away. Decent, affordable food can also bring health benefits and reduce cost to the NHS by reducing rates of obesity and diabetes, he added.