15 March 2022

Mini-series: introduction

As discussed in our first article, ‘Breaking the Junk Food Cycle’, Summer 2021 saw the publication of Henry Dimbleby's long-awaited National Food Strategy (’NFS’) Part Two. This part of the NFS has seen Dimbleby return to the original brief; 'a broad analysis of the strengths and flaws of the entire food system from farm to fork'. The independent review identifies four strategic objectives that are recommended for adoption by the UK Government as part of its new food and farming strategy. These are:

Objective 1: Escape the junk food cycle to protect the NHS.

Objective 2: Reduce diet-related inequality.

Objective 3: Make the best use of our land.

Objective 4: Create a long-term shift in our food culture.

In this second instalment of the mini-series, we consider Dimbleby’s ambitious objective of reducing diet-related inequality, and what this might mean for the food sector itself.

Objective 2: Reduce diet related inequality

Dimbleby describes food inequality as a 'longstanding issue, which has been present within society since humans began to farm.'  The NFS examines the many ways in which food inequality may negatively impact individuals’ day to day lives, including the impact a lower household income can have on people’s diets: 'Those on lower incomes are more likely to have diets which are high in sugar, but low in fibre, fruits, vegetables and fish. Children from the least well-off 20% families consume around 29% less fruit and vegetables than children from the most well-off 20%.' The NFS acknowledges that this is a multi-faceted issue arising from factors including price of goods, availability, education and geography.

How does the NFS propose to eliminate food inequality?

The NFS makes four recommendations to try to solve the problem of food inequality within the UK:

Recommendation 1: Extend eligibility for free school meals

The NFS suggests that: (i) the earning threshold for free school meals should be increased from £7,400 to £20,000, (ii) eligibility should be extended to children who are undocumented or have no recourse to public funds, and (iii) eligible children should be automatically enrolled for free school meals. This would increase the number of children benefitting from free school meals by 1.1 million.

Recommendation 2: Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years

The Holiday Activities and Food programme offers a free holiday club to children who normally receive free school meals, this also includes one hot meal. There is currently no funding to the programme to continue beyond 2021. The NFS recommends that the current level of provision – four days a week for four weeks in the summer and one week at Christmas and Easter –  is evaluated to make sure it is enough to ensure the most vulnerable children do not go hungry.

Recommendation 3: Expand the Healthy Start Scheme

The Scheme, which provides weekly vouchers for vitamins, fruit, vegetables and milk for low-income pregnant women and families with children under the age of 4, should be extended to households earning under £20,000. The NFS suggests that the annual cost to the Government of extending the Scheme (£165 - £285 million) could be partially funded by the proceeds from the Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax (discussed in the first article in this series).

Recommendation 4: Trial a 'Community Eat well' programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets

This recommendation, which is modelled on successful schemes from around the world, is to provide targeted healthy eating support for people on low incomes. The NFS suggests that the Government invites local authorities to bid to design their own ‘Community Eatwell’ programme incorporating, among other things, nutritional education and community kitchens.

What might the impact be on the food industry?

The recommendations of the NFS are understandably ambitious, and the report acknowledges that they will entail significant cost to the Government. It highlights that, when the Healthy Start Scheme began, several national supermarket chains stepped up to supplement the cost of the vouchers. In addition, if the Government is minded to adopt these proposals (which are likely to garner public support) it seems likely that the introduction and allocation of a Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax for these specific purposes will be more appealing than originally thought. The potential expansion of free school meals and holiday clubs will also have an impact on companies that provide catering.

Key contact

Helen Scott-Lawler

Helen Scott-Lawler Partner

  • Head of Food and Drink
  • Commercial
  • Intellectual Property and Media

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