Broken Plate 2022 report: better wages and healthy food affordability needed to fix UK’s food system

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AUTHOR: Molly Long
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Urgent action is required to fix the UK’s ailing food system, according to the findings of The Food Foundation’s annual Broken Plate Report.

The nation is suffering the “double whammy” impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and massive inflation, according to Food Foundation Chair of Trustees Laura Sandys.

Effects of malnutrition are wide-ranging and long-lasting, the report says. Current trends suggest more than 80% of children born in 2022 who survive to the age of 65 will be overweight or obese.

Excess weight in the population also costs the country £74 billion in NHS costs, lost workforce productivity and reduced life expectancy.

Substantial change is needed across the board, the report says, particularly in improving access to healthy, nutritious food.

The report’s first recommendation focuses on ensuring the most vulnerable in society can afford to eat well. It says: “To enable everyone to eat well, incomes (both from wages and benefits) need to be set at a level that accounts for the cost of healthy, sustainable food.”

While the Government introduced a £20 weekly ‘uplift’ to Universal Credit during the pandemic, this has since been scrapped. This is despite figures showing there was a fall in food insecurity among benefit recipients during this time – proving that this kind of support can work.

Attention and support particularly must be paid to food sector workers themselves, as these people are far more likely to be earning minimum wage compared to the rest of the UK workforce. A sufficient living wage must be introduced to support them, the report says.

Regarding the price of food, the report also highlights the discrepancy between the cost of healthy food and unhealthy food. “Processed foods, high in fat, salt and sugar, are more than fifty percent cheaper than fruit and vegetables, leaving many parents unable to access a healthy diet for their families,” explains Food Foundation Ambassador Kathleen Kerridge in the report.

Some supermarkets are beginning to take action to improve access to healthy food in the face of the Government’s postponing of some HFSS legislation, but the report says further action must be taken to rebalance the cost between healthy and unhealthy foods.

Beyond price, the Broken Plate report also takes aim at availability. According to its data, more than one in four places to buy food in the UK are fast food outlets. Indeed, 18% of local authorities have seen an uptick in the number of fast food outlets in recent years – only 2% have seen a decrease.

To change this, the report says more power must be wielded by local authorities to “prevent further proliferation” of unhealthy fast food outlets. Additionally, food businesses should be required to report publicly on the proportion of healthy food they sell.

Tackling childhood obesity must also be a priority, given the damning statistics facing current and future children, the report says.

Reformulation is one of the best courses of action, according to the Food Foundation, as many foods targeted at children are excessively high in fat, sugar and salt. The Government’s HFSS legislation had begun prompting food companies to reformulate their offerings, however since being postponed, this movement has lost some steam.

Additionally, changes to marketing should follow too. This must be rolled out across the board, according to the report. Some companies are already taking steps. Food giant Unilever, has announced it will stop marketing to children under 16 by January 2023.

The Government has pledged to work collaboratively with industry to achieve these results, and said it will only step in with forcible action if changes are not made. The report says this promise must be adhered to.

On the report and moving forward, Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: “This report provides the strongest evidence to date of the worsening crisis affecting our food system and the health of the UK population.

“It is vital that the incoming prime minister takes urgent action to address the issues raised by the National Food Strategy with the development of a new plan for primary legislation.”

Food Matters Live’s on-demand Masterclass on innovating within HFSS guidelines is a must-watch for anyone wanting to deliver on health without compromising on flavour:

How to innovate within HFSS restrictions

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