The devastation caused by Covid-19 is leaving vulnerable people desperate needing help. Labour are concerned Westminster Council doesn’t have a long-term action plan to deal with it.
At the height of the crisis food support in Westminster fell into four main categories:
- Government food parcels for shielded people
- Westminster Connects, a welcome new Council service helping volunteers provide isolated people with a paid for food delivery service;
- Unity Kitchen, a social enterprise working out of Westminster City Hall, providing prepared meals for those in supported accommodation (now being wound down);
- Food Banks, voluntary sector organisations and mutual aid groups supporting residents who were struggling to pay for food.
The balance of need is now moving from the acute priority of getting food to the isolated, to the chronic problems driven by poverty. Residents are struggling to cope in the face of rising unemployment, disrupted support networks and a punitive benefits system. Westminster’s Food Banks and other self-organised non-profits are helping over 3700s resident in the last fortnight in May, up from 190 a week pre-crisis.
In response to Labour’s call in early May for the Council to develop an urgent Westminster Food Poverty Strategy, Westminster Council’s Conservative Leader Rachael Robathan said that the council was bringing together a ‘comprehensive strategy’, driven by an ‘evidence based approach’. A Westminster spokesperson has said they are ‘looking at the future of Westminster Connects and how it can support those in food poverty without creating dependencies on the council’. No details have been given about what comprehensive strategy might be and the rhetoric about ‘creating dependencies’ gives a troubling signal about the council’s priorities.
In the absence of a clear Council plan or any core Council funding for food banks or mutual aid groups, Labour Group members have committed to focus spending from ‘ward budgets’- annual pots of £46k per area on projects chosen by the ward councillors- to tackle the impact of the crisis on our communities. We have funded several food banks and are helping the new mutual aid groups. However many Conservatives have continued with business as usual, giving £96,355 since the start of the crisis to pay for the hanging baskets in five wards (nice to have but not essential). Tackling food poverty in Westminster issue isn’t something that should be left to the vagaries of councillors, it needs urgent leadership from the council.
Westminster Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “People struggling to feed themselves and their families should be a strategic priority for the council. The council must show Westminster’s amazing charities and voluntary groups who have done so much to help that it gets the scale of the challenge and will be with them for the long haul.”