Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of child poverty in the country – a figure which the Council and our partners is determined to change. Building new council homes, establishing an in house team of Universal Credit advisers and supporting the take up of Early Learning Places for 2 year olds are just some of the projects we have in place to support families out of poverty. However the chipping away of the social security safety net through years of austerity and cuts has hit residents hard whether that be the introduction of the benefit cap, migrating people onto Universal Credit or the bedroom tax.

Healthy Start vouchers were set up in 2006 by the Labour government and are a means tested scheme to help young and low-income pregnant women, and children, to buy fruits, vegetables, milk and infant formula.

However recent figures show 130,000 eligible households are missing out on £28.6m in free fruit, vegetables and milk due to poor promotion of the Healthy Start voucher scheme nationwide. Across the capital the scheme is failing to reach 47% of eligible London families with figures as low as 35% in some boroughs. Here in Tower Hamlets the figure is 55%.

Meanwhile foodbanks seem to have become a permanent feature with their growth continuing. The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust shows that between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, the Trussell Trust’s food bank network distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 19% increase on the previous year. More than half a million of these went to children. This is only the tip of the iceberg as we have independent food banks in Tower Hamlets doing vital work which are not included in these figures.

As a council we have done what we can to mitigate the impact of government policies and introduced a multi-million pound Tackling Poverty Fund to support the poorest residents, and have protected council funded free school meals as well as having one of the most generous Council Tax Reduction schemes.

Government needs to pull its finger out and properly tackle food poverty across the board so food bank use doesn’t continue to surge. One way of doing this would promote the Healthy Start scheme and rather than keep quiet about it should commit to using the unclaimed money into boosting awareness of the Healthy Starts programme across the country and be reinvested into tackling hunger.