First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, December 2020.

News of not one but two potential vaccines against Covid-19 has brought fresh hope to millions of people around the world that we may finally return to “normal” in 2021, but do we really want to?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given us all valuable reminders about what is important. Family, good healthcare, a supportive community, green open spaces for recreation, access to technology and Netflix. On a more serious note, the pandemic has brought into focus that so much of our safety and prosperity is dependent on each other, and highlighted inequalities as fundamental as the inability of some families to feed their children without charitable support.

Charitable support for community services

The East of England Co-op has directly donated funds to support local foodbanks, AGE UK, and Community Foundations for Suffolk, Norfolk, and Essex, and donated a further £230,000 to kick start its Community Cares Fund, which enables East of England Co-op members to donate some or all of their dividend vouchers. The total dividend to be shared amongst 140,000 eligible members is a massive £2.1 million, representing over 40% of the East of England Co-op’s profits available for distribution for the last financial year. So far, members have donated almost £140,000 from their dividend, and the total stands at £370,000. From this, the Co-op have granted £250,000 to groups and charities who are providing services to support local people who need help with mental health and wellbeing, food poverty, reducing food waste, and supporting our ageing population.

The Tories are failing those most in need

Meanwhile, it has come to light that the Conservative Government spent £21 million of taxpayers’ money on a go-between to arrange and deliver lucrative PPE contracts, while telling the country it couldn’t afford to extend the free school meals scheme to feed hungry children during the October half term. in response to the free school meals campaign started by footballer Marcus Rashford, Suffolk Coastal’s Right Honourable MP Dr Thérèse Coffey responded “water cannot be disconnected though”. As an avid football fan, she must now realise she scored an own goal when she voted with her Cabinet chums against extending the popular free school meals scheme.

In a U-turn by the Government, which shamefully came too late to help hungry children during October half term, Dr Coffey MP, who has overall responsibility for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which includes supporting people of working age, said “we want to make sure vulnerable feel cared for throughout this difficult time, and above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter”. Anyone trying to live off Universal Credit could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. A single person under the age of 25 receives a monthly standard allowance of £342.72, and a couple aged 25 and over receive a shared monthly standard allowance of £594.04. No wonder so many families on a low income are struggling to buy food. Demand on foodbanks is increasing. Many resident in Felixstowe have been impacted by a reduction in their benefits, reduced working hours, or losing their jobs through redundancy.

Donate to the Co-op Community Cares Fund

There are still approximately 1.7 million children in England who will miss out on free school meals because their family income isn’t quite low enough, so if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to help, please donate an item into the foodbank basket next time you pop into your local Co-op store, or if you are a member of the East of England Co-op, donate your dividend cheques to the Co-op Community Cares Fund.

Free School Meals: U-turn again!

Marcus Rashford is amazing – forcing the Government into yet another U-turn! There will be free school meals vouchers for eligible children all through the Christmas holidays and on into next summer. That’s brilliant news, and a big ‘Thank You’ to all those who ensured Felixstowe children didn’t go hungry in the autumn half term break. What is needed now is a permanent solution to this issue. There has been a 15% increase in eligibility for Free School Meals in Suffolk this year. Suffolk County Council unanimously agreed to a Labour resolution to establish a Food Justice Plan by the end of 2021. The aim is that the issue of food poverty in Suffolk can be accurately quantified and subsequently eliminated.

Cycling and walking

The number of additional cars being driven in the past decade would cover the length of Britain’s coastline, all 11,000 miles, an increase between 2009 and 2019 of 13%. The Local Government Association says this massive increase in cars and traffic on our roads is contributing to worsening road conditions, poor air quality, congestion, and carbon emissions. Councils need long-term funding certainty and investment so they can create safe and attractive cycling and public transport networks and deliver a more resilient roads network. With the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference next year, there is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to tackling climate change and investment in harmful emissions from transport.

Food deals after Brexit

The Government has announced that chlorine-washed chicken from the US is off the menu in any trade deal. A newly established Trade and Agriculture Commission is to be put on a statutory footing. It would provide independent advice on post-Brexit trade deals as they pass through Parliament. Without proper safeguards on future trade deals, we risk seeing an increase in food imports that have been produced to standards that would be illegal here. For instance, antibiotics are used five times as much on US farms as in the UK. Using antibiotics in large quantities leads to the growth of resistant strains of bacteria which can infect people and in serious cases can kill. Pesticides are still used in the US and other countries that have been outlawed in the EU because of health concerns, with residues found in fruit and vegetables. Meat produced in the US has lower welfare standards than we would expect. Eating a portion of US-raised chlorine-washed chicken is unlikely to harm us but in the long term it may fundamentally damage the UK’s food system and standards. If farmers are to keep access to their biggest export market, Europe, then UK standards must be kept in line with EU regulations. If the Government does not mandate similar standards for imports, floods of cheap food produced to lower standards will undercut UK produce, destroying the domestic market. The impact is likely to hit small family farms hardest and thousands could go out of business.

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