Voice of Leeds: YEP summit debates food poverty crisis gripping city

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Prominent Leeds charitable, industrial and political figures have gathered to discuss how to tackle the ongoing food poverty crisis in the city.

In the sixth YEP Voice of Leeds Summit 2015, forums in which public and private sector decision makers meet over issues highlighted by our readers at the YEP’s Whitehall Road offices, a diverse panel discussed ways to tackle figures suggesting that over 26,000 emergency food parcels were handed out in Leeds last year.

Having already hosted high-profile conversations on issues like domestic violence and youth unemployment, the latest summit in the series, organised in partnership with Leeds Community Foundation (LCF), highlighted a need for collaboration.

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Nicola Furbisher, managing director of the YEP, told the panel chaired by LCF programmes manager Pip Goff yesterday that figures around food poverty were among “the most shocking” to have emerged from the Voice of Leeds series.

The extent of the issue was made clear by emergency food providers such as St George’s Crypt, the Salvation Army and Leeds South and East Foodbank, which stated sanctions among benefit claimants over “innocuous” missed Job Centre appointments have forced people into food poverty.

Linda Jackson, of Leeds South and East Foodbank, said: “It’s a longer term investment and that starts at the family centres and schools, but unless we address the immediate chaos we can’t address the future.”

She also talked of how we need to break down the stigma linked to foodbanks, which people can access three times every six months, stating that “not everybody who goes to a food bank is somebody that’s lazy”.

Coun Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, added that many work on zero hour contracts with little income.

A lack of basic education in cooking and meal planning was highlighted by several panel members including Paul Long, of not-for-profit firm Incredible Edible Kirkstall.

But Laura Babbs, sustainability manager at Asda, said it can be “challenging” to get under pressure schools to find the time for sustainability classes.

Coun Bill Urry, the council’s lead member for homelessness, added: “We need to balance situations of absolute destitution versus the longer term issues.”

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