Tower Hamlets has been recognised as one of the two top boroughs in London for healthy and sustainable food initiatives to tackle food poverty.
The award of Best Overall Borough in London which was shared with Lambeth was given by Sustain, an alliance that works to improve food and farming sustainability around the country, in this year’s Beyond the Food Bank report.
Sustain’s report evaluates the steps councils in London are taking to improve quality of life including includes taken to reduce household food poverty. Tower Hamlets out-ranked 33 other boroughs in London for Best Overall Borough, tying with Lambeth.
The borough has been praised for its approach in tackling food poverty, highlighting initiatives such as providing free school meals for primary school children regardless of income.
Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of child poverty in London. The Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that 44 per cent of children in Tower Hamlets live below the poverty line. This equates to around 18,875 children in the borough, making it one of the highest rates Britain.
The Children, Schools and Families Contract Services (CSFCS) provides free meals to 30,000 students across 87 primary schools.
Free school meals provide vital support for low-income families, for many of whom lunch is their main meal of the day.
Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain, said: “Food poverty, especially in a wealthy city like London, is unacceptable and has been exacerbated by welfare reforms.”
Reynolds continued: “Sustain is pleased to see boroughs like Tower Hamlets actively working to avert food poverty for its residents, particularly by taking significant steps to improve the implementation of free school meals.”
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has also announced that the council will provide schools with new menus that promote healthier meals.
In the borough, nearly one in seven children in reception and over one in four children in year six are obese. As a result, Tower Hamlets is the sixth highest proportion of obese children in the country.
To help alleviate the problem, menus have been designed to reduce sugar consumption and promote a higher vegetable intake.
The new menus include offering sweet potato wedges and fresh fruit instead of cakes, pastries and other sweets, as well as replacing pasta and egg-based salads with more vegetables.
Biggs said: “I’m pleased to see these new menus rolled out to schools. This will ensure children are well nourished throughout the day, making a positive impact on their overall well-being [and] provide a foundation to live healthier lives.”
He added: “Despite government cuts, we have protected funding to provide free school meals to children in the borough.”
The revised menus follow evaluations from three former employees of Jamie Oliver who are members of the council’s school meal working group.
Councillor Denise Jones, Cabinet Member for Health, Adults and Communication, said: “It is great to be recognised for the incredible work that our [council-run] catering service have done, ensuring meals are of the highest quality.”
In 2017, following damning statistics regarding the levels of child poverty, Tower Hamlets has pledged to put aside £5 million to support families in financial difficulties.
Elsewhere in the Eastlondonlines area, Lewisham, Croydon and Hackney came fifth, seventh and twelfth place respectively.