“Food poverty is nothing to be ashamed of, asking for help is the only way forward.” By Dean Lamb

My name is Dean Lamb, and I am a Senior Coach Mentor at The Change Foundation. I was born in the 1980’s into a single parent family. My mum worked tirelessly to provide sufficient food, clothing and shelter for me and my sister. There were times when my mum was unable to provide these things and had to make the difficult choice of going without herself or rationing the food to make it last. Unfortunately, this is also a reality for so many young people on our Change Foundation programmes and the pandemic has highlighted food inequalities even more so. Food poverty has been an issue that has long existed but has been given little attention, until recently, with the help of campaigns from large charities and from sports celebrities such as Marcus Rashford.

The Big Issue says 8.4 million people in the UK currently suffer from food poverty, that is equal to almost the entire population of London; these are scary figures. The Department of Health defines food poverty as someone who has the inability to afford or have access to a healthy diet. Under the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights, the UK government has been required to secure the right to adequate food for everyone in the UK, so why are 8.4 million still suffering? This is a wake-up call, reminding us that too many people are sometimes too poor to eat in the UK.

People often think that food poverty is suffered by a certain type of person, but this kind of stereotype could not be further from the truth. Food poverty can impact anyone at any given time, not just single parent families or those on low incomes or benefits. There are many causes for food poverty including cost of living rising faster than salaries, extensive changes to the benefits systems, an increase on the reliance of zero-hours contracts, charges introduced for school meals and afterschool childcare.  Other factors such as our health can impact on ability to work and more recently, we have felt the economic impact of a global pandemic. There are countless reasons why someone may fall on hard times.

Food poverty not only has an impact on your physical wellbeing, but also has an impact on your mental health, self-esteem, long term health and employability. We see this first-hand at The Change Foundation when we recruit vulnerable young people to our sport interventions.

As a sports Coach Mentor, I work with vulnerable young people, from the ages of 16-25, helping them gain the skills and self-confidence they need to find employment through sports and mentoring sessions. I have witnessed first-hand how food insecurity affects these young people as some would turn up to sessions having not eaten. It was not until they felt comfortable to tell me about their situation and open-up to me that I could help them. I have since sought to educate myself on the matter of food insecurity and accessed support from local foodbanks, charities, and funders to ensure that there are food vouchers and information on foodbanks available to anyone attending our sessions. At The Change Foundation, we know that this is the level of wrap around support we must give in addition to the sport in order for young people to succeed. It is particularly important for these young people entering adulthood, some with little support from family, to be able to meet their basic needs without fear of judgement.

Tackling food poverty needs to remain high on the agenda of policy makers but also in our communities. There are so many food banks doing a fantastic job to support those in need, and no one should have to go without. Let us continue to shine the light on food poverty and challenge the stigma attached to asking for help; no one should feel they have to suffer in silence, and no one should go without.