Suffolk County Council's poverty plan delayed due to Covid-19

Suffolk County Council's poverty plan has been delayed and could be six months late.

Suffolk County Council's poverty plan has been delayed and could be six months late. Pictured: Volunteers sorting donations at a foodbank in 2017. - Credit: Antony Kelly

A plan to address food poverty in Suffolk has been delayed, the county council has admitted – and it could be more than six months later than planned.

But project chiefs at say some measures have already begun to help support families in need as the cost of living pressures bite.

Suffolk County Council unanimously agreed a motion in July 2020 to produce a food poverty action plan by the end of 2021 to help the thousands of homes struggling to put food on the table.

Figures at the time indicated there were 17,600 pupils on free school meals, and an estimated 50,000 youngsters living in poverty. Free school meals numbers had risen to 18,600 during Covid-19.

But the food poverty action plan has still not yet been published, with the authority saying that it now expects it to be unveiled “later this year”.

Delays have been attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, with some staff working on the plan having been redeployed to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

It has also emerged that the food poverty plan is set to be one strand of a wider poverty strategy, although details on what else that may include have not yet been confirmed.

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Recruitment of a food poverty officer was confirmed in September 2020 as part of the actions, and started in post last year.

Andrew Reid, Conservative cabinet member for public health, protection and communities, said: “The food justice action plan aims to support people in Suffolk to access nutritious food when they need it.

Andrew Reid, cabinet member for public health, public protection and communities at Suffolk County C

Andrew Reid, cabinet member for public health, public protection and communities at Suffolk County Council - Credit: Charlotte Bond

"Whilst the plan itself will be published later this year, a number of interventions which could have an immediate positive impact on those most in need were identified during 2020/2021 and have begun to be implemented.

“There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities.

"We took swift action during the pandemic to appoint a foodbank officer, to ensure a constant supply of healthy food choices are available for our food banks and by providing emergency food stock when donations have been low.

“The foodbanks officer has been working with FareShare and NFU to ensure fresh food from farms is able to reach our local foodbanks, this partnership will continue to grow.

“Suffolk County Council has also been actively promoting the free school meal offer to ensure children and families who are eligible have access to food whilst in school and work has been done in recent months to increase the take up of Healthy Start vouchers.

"We have also delivered the holiday activity programme to ensure children have access to food over holidays, funding for this has been secured for the next three years.”

It is understood the council is to liaise with the district and borough councils and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership on the plan, and could include a request for those organisations to put resources in place too.

Jack Abbott, a former Labour councillor who put forward the food poverty motion in 2020, said: “It is deeply disappointing that Suffolk County Council have broken their promise to deliver a landmark food poverty strategy.

Jack Abbott is leaving Suffolk County Council after four years.

Jack Abbott, former Labour county councillor - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“It felt like a watershed moment when my motion to tackle food poverty was unanimously supported by councillors from all political parties.

"However, it has been the best part of two years since that agreement was made, and Suffolk’s food justice action plan still hasn’t been published, never mind implemented.

“Despite missing the deadline, there has been no explanation given as to why there has been such a significant delay or when the strategy will see the light of day.

“We are in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis for a generation, with many households facing a devastating choice between heating and eating, yet Suffolk County Council are showing no urgency in trying to tackle the causes of poverty.”

Anyone in need of immediate support should contact the Suffolk advice and support service on 0800 068 3131.