Food poverty and malnutrition

MQT on 2014-09-17
Session date: 
September 17, 2014
Question By: 
Fiona Twycross
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


With a 19% increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the past year, and conditions like rickets becoming more apparent in London's population, what are you doing to address the growing health inequalities among large sections of Londoners?


Answer for Food poverty and malnutrition

Answer for Food poverty and malnutrition

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, actually, you say there is a 19% increase in people admitted to hospital with malnutrition in London.  The numbers actually went down by 4% last year.  I do not know what that figure is you are referring to.  It certainly does not apply to ‑‑ 

Fiona Twycross AM:  It was a national figure, but I understand that the number of people with rickets in London is going up. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I have been trying to get the data on rickets.  I know that Victoria [Victoria Borwick AM, Deputy Mayor] has been looking at this and I do not have specific data on rickets here today.  What I can tell you is that we are obviously aware of the problems that Londoners who are suffering from food poverty are facing; and we supporting all sorts of schemes, including the Healthy Start programme to get people on low incomes vouchers for fruit and milk and so forth.  50% of London schools have signed up for the Healthy Schools London programme to make sure that they have good food at school.  Then I draw your attention  to all the other measures that we are putting in place, not least what Rosie Boycott [Chair, London Food] is doing through the Capital Growth Initiative to support the growing of food in London, and then all the other things to support people on low incomes generally.  There is no question that there is a problem, but the actual numbers of those admitted for malnutrition fell by 4% this year. 

Fiona Twycross AM:  OK.  I would welcome a copy of those figures because that is at variance with the national trend.  I am pleased that you recognise there is an issue because obviously conditions like rickets should be more associated with the Victorian era than 21st century London.  We are one of the richest countries in the world and we keep coming back to the issue of rising food poverty and the rising use of food banks; and it is just a scandal, in one of the richest countries in the world, that this an issue today.  Will you commit to increasing your efforts both in relation to tackling health inequalities and eliminating food poverty in the next 18 months while you are still Mayor? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We are rolling out, as you know, community shops or social supermarkets.  I saw one the other day in Holborn, where loads of residual food is sold, and that is something also that Rosie [Boycott] and her team have been working on.  One way to tackle the rising cost of food of course would be to scrap the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which adds about £400 a year to the annual bills of families.  I do not know whether that is Labour Party policy, but you might consider that one. 

Fiona Twycross AM:  OK.  Clearly food prices have actually gone up 12% since 2007, with falls in wages of over 7.5%, so the cost of food is an issue, notwithstanding the CAP.  However, I hope you will agree with me that one of the most shocking aspects of food poverty in London is the number of hungry children.  For many London schoolchildren, their first day back at school marked their first nutritious meal since the end of July.  What plans do you have to ensure these children do not go hungry in the school holidays in future? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We have schemes like the Big Breakfast.  We do things to support ‑‑ 

Fiona Twycross AM:  Does that run in the school holidays?  That does not run in the school holidays. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I understand the point you are making, but we do loads of events and initiatives to encourage parents to recognise the importance of a good breakfast.  Rosie [Boycott] has been leading on that.  This is something that in the overwhelming majority of cases will be for parents to make sure is happening.  We try to draw attention to the importance of breakfast. 

Fiona Twycross AM:  For far too many families during school holidays, they are unable to afford nutritious meals for their children and generally food bank use goes up during school holidays.  There is a spike over the summer that the council trusts report on an annual basis.  One of the things I would be very keen for you to do - and I know you have not done it yet - is to visit a food bank and talk to people about exactly the pressures that people face, talk to the people who are affected by it and talk to the people working with them.  John Biggs and I will be going to the Tower Hamlets food bank in October and we would very much welcome you joining us then.  Will you join us at the Tower Hamlets food bank in October? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is highly unlikely I will go with you, but I will ‑‑ 

Fiona Twycross AM:  Will you go to a food bank? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  As I go around London and I talk to loads of people, I am acutely conscious of the issue of food poverty and we are trying to ‑‑ 

Fiona Twycross AM:  Will you go to a food bank? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ address it in all sorts of ways, including supporting those who are engaged in education ‑‑ 

Fiona Twycross AM:  He is not answering the question.  I am happy to finish there.  Thank you. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ about the importance of a good breakfast and supporting people who help to provide ‑‑ 

Fiona Twycross AM:  You will refuse to go to a food bank? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ cheap food through social supermarkets. 

Fiona Twycross AM:  I am happy with that, thank you. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  But it is unlikely that I am going to appear in a photo opportunity with you. 

Fiona Twycross AM:  It is not about a photo opportunity.  It is about understanding the issue.  Thank you. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  If it were a Conservative Member, I might think about it. 

Fiona Twycross AM:  We will find a food bank in a Conservative area.  I am sure one of your colleagues would be happy to go with you.