More than 50% of children in tower hamlets living with ‘food insecurity’ – report

More than half of all children in Tower Hamlets are suffering from food insecurity, the highest level in London, according to a new report

A report by the Labour group on the London Assembly revealed that a total of 34,384 children across Croydon, Hackney, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets experience food insecurity.

According to the report: “Childhood hunger is a direct consequence of poverty” with the report suggesting that children in Tower Hamlets experience the highest levels of food insecurity as 51.4 per cent of children were found to be living in poverty after housing costs– the highest of any London borough.

This is in comparison to Richmond Upon Thames where 15.6 per cent of children are said to be living in poverty- the lowest of any London borough. In the City of London, the figure is 10 per cent.

According to the report, being ‘food insecure’ means that a person’s food intake is reduced and their eating patterns are disrupted because of a lack of money and other resources for obtaining food,
something that many Londoners witnessed early on in the pandemic.

Graph showing proportion of children in poverty in every London borough Data source: Trustforlondon

Released earlier this month, the report estimated that at least 237,000 children throughout the capital could be unable to access sufficient nutritious food. It also acknowledges that there is “no definitive measure of food insecurity” and “inflation has significantly increased since then [November 2021 to February 2022], so we expect the figure to currently be much higher.”

Unmesh Desai, London Assembly member for City and East, said: “It is devastating that children are waking up going to school, going out to play and going to bed hungry.”

He added: “I have repeatedly called for the expansion of free school meals…without it, it will not be a case of choosing between heating or eating, it will leave many Londoners not being able to afford either.”

Joanna Reeves, director of Bow Food Bank, said: “the rise in number of people coming to the food bank is absolutely huge… we have gone from serving 300 house holds to 700 house holds” in a matter of months.

This report comes after The Mayor of London’s 2021-2022 survey of Londoners found that 14 per cent of children under the age of 16 experience ‘low’ or ‘very low’ food security.

Marina Ahmed, Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, said in the report: “We have a government whose policies risk fuelling the perception outside of London that the capital is paved with gold. Evidence of this can be found in the first round of funding for the Levelling-Up Fund. London boroughs such as Hackney were only allocated 16p per head, in stark contrast to wealthier Bromsgrove in Worcestershire which will be receiving £148.33 per head”

The report also states that official figures on child hunger are likely to be below the reality as “41 per cent of single parents were food-insecure, but only 26 percent reported that their children were food-insecure”. This disparity, though not as severe, is the same amongst families with two parents and is believed to be because parents are choosing to feed their children and not themselves.

Reeves confirmed this claim: “Our guests at the food bank will prioritise their children over themselves.”

The risks of food insecurity highlighted by the report are said to lead to “children” eating “either not enough food” or “inexpensive, calorie dense food of low nutritional value, leading to the child having poor health and struggling at school.”

It is also said to “hugely increase the likelihood of developing type two diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity later in life. There will also be an adverse impact on psychological health and poor educational attainment.”

At a meeting of full council last month, Lewisham councillors approved a motion to declare a Cost-of-Living Emergency, calling on the Government to use its powers to support people through the worst financial crisis to hit the country in decades. Tower Hamlets Council also issued a £2.7m cost of living relief package earlier this year.

The report’s findings were from a self-completion survey of 8,630 adults aged 16 and over living in London and ran from November 2021 to February 2022.