YEP summit debates the food poverty crisis gripping Leeds

The YEP Voice of Leeds summit on food poverty. Picture by James Hardisty.
The YEP Voice of Leeds summit on food poverty. Picture by James Hardisty.
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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.

Picture by James Hardisty.

Picture by James Hardisty.

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.

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.”

Date:  25th June 2015. Picture James Hardisty, (JH1009/17a) YEP Voice of Leeds Summit. Pictured Chris Fields, St George's Crypt.

Date: 25th June 2015. Picture James Hardisty, (JH1009/17a) YEP Voice of Leeds Summit. Pictured Chris Fields, St George's Crypt.

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.”

LEARNING NEW SKILLS FOR THE FUTURE

Education needs to play a vital role if food poverty in Leeds is to be tackled in the future, according to YEP Voice of Leeds summit panellists.

While Leeds City Council representatives such as health improvement officer Emma Strachan talked of work by the Ministry of Food in reaching schools, the panel agreed the next and current generation are in need of more skills.

Payam Mohseni, from O2 and the Real Junk Food Project, said: “I’ve had a couple of incidents were people have come into a cafe and been given a food parcel and didn’t know what to do with it.”

Vicky Whiteley, of Whiteley’s Farm in Pudsey, added that more local investment in edible beds to help people learn about and value food more could “snowball” to change food routines, so people eat healthier and cheaper.

While the likes of Incredible Edible Kirkstall and Sonja Wood, from Voluntary Action Leeds, talked of a desire to establish new links with partners to deliver more education in schools.

But Chris Long, of St George’s Crypt, warned that decision makers must avoid the “good life pastiche” as many of the most destitute residents don’t even have the means to cook.

The panel said joint working was needed to help both now and in future. Andy Goldring, of the Leeds Permaculture Association, added: “We are the sixth richest country in the world and it’s not right that children are going hungry.”

THE CHAIR’S VIEW

Speaking at the YEP Voice of Leeds summit, Leeds Community Foundation programmes manager Pip Goff talked of the demands on organisations citywide.

She said: “We recognise there is a really difficult context to this, with benefit issues and poverty and culture and the way things have changed. In the short term there is a real need for food banks but in the longer term there seems to be a need for education.”

Ms Goff said existing services need to be mapped to improve access, while the private and public sectors can combine in education.

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