Income and Poverty

Food Access: Whose Responsibility?

  • Published 1st May 2000
  • Authors: Cathy Street, , Catherine Howarth,
  • Category: Income and Poverty

In Spring 2000, the New Policy Institute held a seminar to review four recent research projects addressing food access for low income communities, and to discuss where responsibility lies for resolving this complex issue and what solutions might be generally or locally appropriate. This briefing paper outlines the public policy and research questions which were framed at the seminar. Summaries of the four research projects are also presented. The purpose is to make the information shared at the seminar and in subsequent discussions more widely accessible, and to add to the increasing demand for sharp policy making around food access.

The key conclusions from the seminar were:

  • Action is needed to reach a definition of what constitutes adequate food access, which is acceptable both to government at national and local levels, and to those who experience problems obtaining sufficient food for healthy living.
  • A number of local health agencies are keen to understand and improve local food access. Main responses to date have tended to focus on local level food initiatives, utilising voluntary labour. 
  • These undoubtedly play an important role. However, food access must also be part of the mainstream national and regional level policy agenda for area regeneration, for tackling poverty and social exclusion and for reducing inequalities in health. 
  • Making this happen will require more recognition of the problem and its local manifestations, and better collaboration over solutions across government departments – and between central and local levels – than is taking place at the moment. 
  • The key players in terms of food provision in many deprived areas are the minority ethnic community retailers, the discount providers and the small grocery chains, as well as the large main retailers. Their respective contributions and responsibilities have not been properly clarified. 
  • Food access is part of a wider set of issues raised by current crises in farming and in the demise of local shops and services in urban and rural areas. 
  • Food access issues need to be part of regeneration and social inclusion initiatives. Internet shopping and other related retailing trends are likely to exacerbate exclusion and inequalities.