Socialist Worker

Blame Tories not the poor for obesity and hunger

The rolling out of new measures to tackle obesity shames poor people and will not tackle a crisis that the Tories made worse, says Sarah Bates

Issue No. 2716

Poor quality diets and empty cupboards are a result of Tory britain

Poor quality diets and empty cupboards are a result of Tory Britain (Pic: Indrid Cold/Flickr)


The Tories claim to be fighting obesity with a series of new measures aimed at encouraging people to drop five pounds of weight. 

Apart from being a shameless attempt to divert attention from their own coronavirus failings, it just won’t work.

It is true that early statistics show that people who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of serious complications and death from Covid-19. 

But the government and health service’s obsession with weight loss and the narrative constructed about the dangers of obesity ignore wider factors about health.

Instead of a holistic approach to healthy living, overweight people face hostility from the government, the NHS, and some of the public. 

Combatting rates of obesity is far from the silver bullet that the ­government’s new public information campaign implies. 

It is making calorie information in restaurants mandatory, ­banning unhealthy snacks at supermarket checkouts and axing junk food adverts before 9pm.

Their blame game declares our waistlines as simply a matter of ­personal choice.  

Professor John Ashton said the government’s approach was “victim blaming” obese people. 

“They are all about blaming it on people’s individual choices.

"They are very reluctant to interfere with the commercial sector because it is easier to focus on and blame the individual.”

But, it’s not just obesity that’s the problem— there is also the horror of daily hunger. After just a few weeks of lockdown in Britain three million people were in ­households where someone was forced to skip meals.

And with food bank use on the rise, more people have less control over their diets than normal. 

One woman who started using food banks said that she used tinned and processed food much more now as they came in the parcels. 

Poor quality food sent to children on free meals
Poor quality food sent to children on free meals
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“Before we had to rely on food banks, I always cooked meals from scratch and tried to eat healthy and nutritious food,” she said. 

Like hunger, obesity effects the poor most.

Deprived 

The government’s obesity report said that “Children in the most deprived parts of the country are more than twice as likely to be obese as their peers living in the richest areas.”

People working long shifts will find it easier and cheaper to grab pre-packaged food than spend hours cooking a meal from scratch.  

That’s not because poor people don’t understand how to keep healthy—but because they are trapped in a system that makes it almost impossible. 

Luke Billingham, a youth worker in east London said that if the government “really wanted to tackle child obesity” it could invest in sports facilities and training for young people. 

Tory Britain—a place where the twin horrors of obesity and hunger stalk the land, and the only plan to solve it lets food bosses off the hook, while blaming ordinary people.


Government must go much further to end food crisis

A government report has recommended changes that it claims will tackle child hunger and food supply.

Authored by Henry Dimbleby, Leon restaurant co-founder and son of David Dimbleby, the report outlines a new “national food strategy”.  

It said that the Covid-19 pandemic “has given new urgency to the slow-motion disaster of the British diet”. 

Even one of the nation’s favourite confectionaries was in the firing line. Percy Pig sweets were blasted for their misleading packaging, which claims they are free of “artificial colours or flavourings.”

Million 

The report recommended that 1.5 million more children should receive free school meals and more pregnant women get access to fresh food vouchers. 

The review calls for enough checks on imported food to ensure it meets the “gold standard” of independent scrutiny.

It called for 1.1 million children to benefit from holiday hunger schemes in 16 local council areas at a cost of £200 million. 

The next report will look at how meat consumption impacts on climate catastrophe and recommend how a more environmentally friendly food system can be built.

It’s a welcome step that scrutiny is being placed on the government’s food failures. 

But the report is toothless, and the government doesn’t even have a duty to formally respond to its findings. 

The Tories aren’t interested in giving people better diets.

If they were, it wouldn’t have taken footballer Marcus Rashford and widespread public disgust to force them to extend the free school meal policy over the summer holidays. 

It will require more than such reports to bring the government to task over this critical issue. 


Leisure centres under threat

After a decade of cuts and privatisation, many people struggle to afford the exercise facilities that would make it easier to stay healthy. 

And the situation is likely to worsen after the pandemic. 

Councils aren’t legally obliged to provide them—so they could be one of the first services to go. 

The £800 million bailout that leisure bosses are asking for should be poured into the industry but used to take these services back into public hands. 

Swimming pools and gyms are so expensive because bosses cream off profits from public services. 

If the government was serious about encouraging healthy living, it would make these services free or very cheap—not just available to those who could afford it. 


Food parcel disgrace

The government boasted that it would help some 50,000 extremely clinically vulnerable people with weekly food parcels. 

But some people complained that emergency parcels were coming with no fresh food in them or, like shielder Lorraine Smith, with rotten fruit “every week”.

“I don’t know how they can give people that,” she said. “It’s degrading to people that are shielding.”

The Tories withdrew all food parcel support last week and are encouraging shielders to go to the shops to get their supplies.


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