Food poverty

MQT on 2014-02-26
Session date: 
February 26, 2014
Question By: 
Fiona Twycross
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Are you concerned by increasing number of people in London who are facing food poverty?


Answer for Food poverty

Answer for Food poverty

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Fiona, yes, you ask about whether I am concerned about the number of people in London who are facing food poverty, and indeed we are.  That is why Rosie Boycott, Chair of the London Food Board, has been absolutely militant about this for years now.  She successfully got a pretty good budget from us to continue her work.  What she wants to do is to bring social supermarkets to London to improve the distribution of surplus food in that way.  As you know, I am a supporter of the whole free school meals idea in getting more healthy food on the table for kids in our schools.


Fiona Twycross AM:  I also welcome the work that Rosie Boycott and the Food Board have done, but I would question a good budget being one that is cut.  At the point at which the charitable trusts are reporting that there has been a 400% increase in the number of people using food banks in London over the past two years, it is really not the point at which to make any cut to what - by any standards - is a relatively small part of your overall budget.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I understand that.  I did continually say to Rosie, “Is this enough?”  In the end you have got to be guided by that.  The principle has got to be not how much you spend but the results you deliver.


Fiona Twycross AM:  No, I agree but with a 400% increase in the number of people using food banks I would question whether the resources for the people, who are having to resort to food banks, are quite meeting the need at the moment.  I think when we see some of the impact of things like the social supermarkets, which I agree are a good move I think that we need to look at what more can be done for the, for example, 63,000 people including 24,500 children relying on food banks in the first eight months of this year.  I am sure you would agree with me that is an embarrassment in the sixth wealthiest city in the world.  Are you embarrassed about this and what more are you personally going to do?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am very concerned about what is happening with food banks and with levels of poverty generally in London.  There is no question at all that in the last six years or so since the crunch real incomes have declined.  You have seen increases in prices of heating, as we have discussed, of food and things on which people absolutely depend.  The answer - there are many things you have got to do - the single best solution is to get people into work and to get the economy really humming.  That is the thing that in the end defeats poverty.  We are having great success in getting employment up again, in getting people into work, but they have to be paid decently and that is why I come back to the London Living Wage.


Fiona Twycross AM:  If you want to come back on to your record on the London Living Wage we can do, but for the moment I would like to talk instead about a different commitment you have made.  You previously said you would monitor the impact of welfare changes.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.


Fiona Twycross AM:  A report published after much delay by the Government last week on emergency food aid in the UK said that emergency food aid is a last resort, and I think we need to be clear that they are a sticking plaster and not a solution.  Last week as well faith leaders and charities attributed much of the problem to benefit delays and changes, and surveys of people using food boards make it very clear that it is about benefit delays.  You have already mentioned your focus on Know Your Rights but actually it is not so much about people knowing their rights.  It is about actually getting what they are entitled to, so I want to know what you are doing about monitoring the impact of the welfare changes and the benefit delays, and what you are doing to lobby Government on those aspects that are driving Londoners to food banks.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We are obviously continually monitoring the impact of benefit changes.  One of the most ‑‑


Fiona Twycross AM:  What form does that take?  What form does that take because we are not hearing about it yet?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  One of the most important changes has obviously been the reform to Housing Benefit.  If you will remember a few years ago now there were predictions of huge convoys of people fleeing the places they were living and being driven into other accommodation elsewhere in huge numbers, and ‑‑


Fiona Twycross AM:  That is happening.  We know that that is happening.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Fiona, it is not clear that it is happening or certainly not on anything like the scale that some people had predicted, and we are indeed monitoring those numbers.  I would be very happy to share any details that we have with you about what is happening.  If you remember, one of the pledges I made at the time was to try to mitigate the impact for London, to try to dampen it, because clearly in London there will be lots of very hard cases, people who have, for one reason or another, to live in what is a very expensive property but reform of welfare is essential and, indeed, in the election in 2010 I seem to remember that all parties were committed to reforming Housing Benefit.


Fiona Twycross AM:  This is not about reform of welfare.  It is about people not getting what they are entitled to, that this Government with the welfare changes says they are entitled to.  It is about making sure that people get what they are entitled to.  I have seen in the lift you have got a little sign saying you want everybody to get what they are entitled to.  What are you doing in terms of raising this with Government?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The Know Your Rights campaign is there to ensure that people are aware of the benefits that they get.


Fiona Twycross AM:  There is no point in them knowing their rights if they are not getting what they are entitled to, so I think I would like to see you doing more to do this because that is one way that you can help prevent the increased rise of food banks in London.  I will leave it at that.  Thank you.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Obviously, Fiona is right that it is part of our general job to make sure people do claim what they deserve and that they get it and we do that through the Know Your Rights” campaign and supporting boroughs in that work.