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Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Food injustice is one of the biggest challenges facing Lewisham. Local food banks and other crisis food provision groups are reporting a steep rise in demand post-COVID, combined with a decrease in food and financial contributions as the cost of living crisis intensifies.  Since 2019 the number of people coming to Citizens Advice Lewisham for food bank referrals has tripled from around 5,000 to 15,000 in 2022.

There is real concern that despite having an extensive network of emergency food providers, some organisations in Lewisham will not be able to meet demand and some of our most vulnerable residents will go hungry this winter. This is an unacceptable situation which requires urgent, co-ordinated and sustained action.

In 2020 the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, made three local food campaigners the ‘Mayoresses of Lewisham’ helping raise the profile of the issue of food injustice across our borough. Food Justice has remained high on our political agenda and we are taking action. In March this year the Council passed a Motion declaring Lewisham a Right to Food Borough and have signed up to the Co-op Party’s Right to Food Campaign. In early October, Councillors walked from Downham to Lewisham town centre to demand a Right to Food and on World Food Day we encouraged residents to get involved and meet local growers, garden growing projects and people knowledgeable about wild food around the borough. The co-ordinated events will draw people’s attention to the wealth of growing projects and wild food in the borough and encourage people to visit and volunteer at growing spaces close to them.

Our Food Justice Strategy is in its final draft and is being co-produced with stakeholders from across the public, voluntary, community and faith sectors came together to discuss how to tackle food injustice across the borough. They identified that tackling and addressing food injustice requires a whole systems approach that includes preventative steps to address the wide range of structural issues that contribute to food injustice, as well as actions to promote food resilience and access to emergency food provision that promotes dignity and choice.

Our vision for Lewisham is that:

  • all Lewisham residents can enjoy reliable and fair access to food that is sufficiently nutritious, sustainable, culturally appropriate and affordable.
  • all Lewisham residents have the knowledge, skills, resources and opportunity to grow, prepare, cook, eat and share food with their families and communities.
  • all Lewisham stakeholders support collective action to end chronic hunger, promote food resilience and reduce the need for emergency food aid.
  • all Members of the Lewisham Food Justice Alliance and other key stakeholders have access to data to monitor the scale of the issue of food injustice and to determine whether the actions taken are having a positive impact on lived experience, health and wellbeing.

It equally important is that we talk about the circumstances that force families and individuals in increasing numbers to use Food Banks.  We must continue to talk about the real and lived experiences caused primarily by a consistent failure to upgrade the social security system and bring wages and benefits in line with inflation.  There is a direct correlation between the five week wait to access Universal Credit and getting into debt. It is very clear that those suffering food insecurity will also often experience other forms of disadvantage including fuel poverty, social deprivation, discrimination, housing insecurity or poor physical or mental health.

What we all desperately need of course is a Labour & Co-operative Government. But in the meantime, it behoves all of us to act to reduce food injustice and it must include advocacy for system-wide effort to address the wider structural issues identified above whilst acknowledging the existing local and national policies and strategies in place to address these.