Wednesday, September 16, 1998 Published at 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Public debate demanded on food poverty
A good diet should be varied, but for many the choices are limited
People on low incomes should have a say in discussions about food poverty, according to the National Food Alliance (NFA).
The Alliance has published a report gathering together over 70 proposals for combatting food poverty.
The aim is to put the proposals to people on low incomes to see what they think.
Their views will then be submitted to the government and the NFA hopes this will provide an impetus for change.
The report's author calls food poverty "a political failure that should be deemed intolerable".
Publication of the report comes the day after the government announced plans to tackle Britain's "food deserts" - low income estates with poor access to supermarkets and high levels of nutrition-related health problems.
According to the NFA, 13m people in the UK live in poverty.
The report, Food Poverty: what are the policy options?, includes radical proposals such as the suggestion that food vouchers should be issued to the poor and deducted from benefits.
"Some people would say this denies people choice," said NFA project officer Jacqui Webster.
"But, on the other hand, a lot of people who smoke say they would prefer to be told they cannot smoke. We need to go back to people and ask them what they think."
Other proposals cover calls for the inclusion of food and nutrition on the National Curriculum, increased financial support for food cooperatives and community cafes and tighter planning controls for food shops.
Although the law has been altered to discourage big food retailers from siting new shops in out-of-town areas which are difficult for non-car users to get to, some researchers suggest planning applications could still be subject to stricter controls.
For example, they say retailers could be forced to ensure there is transport provision for low income families to get to new stores.
The team will talk to big and small food retailers in a bid to tackle the problem.
One issue thought to be under consideration by the government is whether shops in low income areas should offer lower priced food.
The NFA says it is not sure this would help.
"Communities in Britain have become more and more split and we are living in a two-nation Britain. Having lower prices could make it worse. People should have equal access to services," said Jacqui Webster.
She added that supermarkets often tended to avoid low income areas as they could not make much profit, leaving only small shops which tended to have higher prices.