The food required for a healthy diet is often unaffordable or inaccessible for Britain’s poorest families (Poverty causes obesity. Low-income families need to be better off to eat well, 9 August). As Larry Elliott concludes, a strategy for raising incomes among this group is a necessary starting point for any attempt to improve our nation’s diet.
Over the past decade, which has seen an explosion in the need for food banks, households at the bottom of the income distribution are the only ones to have suffered a reduction in weekly disposable income. As a minimum, the temporary raising of universal credit must be made permanent and indeed built upon so that benefits are never again allowed to lag behind the cost of living. The planned easing of deductions from universal credit should also be introduced now, rather than in 15 months.
If the prime minister is seeking the quickest of wins, he need look no further than Healthy Start vouchers. Take-up of this nutritional safety net for poorer families recently plummeted to 48% (from 73% five years ago) and the vouchers have been fixed in cash terms for more than a decade. A process of automatic registration, and uprating the vouchers in line with inflation, would immediately increase the flow of fruit and vegetables to an extra 270,000 beneficiaries.
Even with a safety net there is, as Beveridge recognised, a role for social entrepreneurs in complementing statutory provision. A community food innovation fund would enable food buses, citizens’ supermarkets, and similar projects to make healthy food more accessible. Such initiatives have a proven ability to help to tackle some of the underlying causes of vulnerability in people’s lives.
Director, Feeding Britain
• Larry Elliott is right to highlight the association between obesity and poverty. He lists potential reasons as poorer people having more pressing priorities than weight-maintenance, or living further from healthy food shops. In 2017, Unicef highlighted that 10% of UK children live in severely food insecure households, which is another likely explanation. How can people who experience this kind of hunger as children be expected to refrain from overeating when food becomes available? And how can we, as a civilised society, tolerate this for our children?
Dr Helen Holt
Consultant physician, Royal Bournemouth hospital