‘Some residents in Cambridge too frightened to turn their oven on’
Some people in Cambridge are “frightened” to turn on their ovens to cook food as they struggle with the increased cost of living.
Councillors highlighted the problems being faced by many in the city saying they are facing a cost of living emergency.
Cambridge City Council said it would continue to support people who need help, but called on the government to do more, including enshrining the right to food in law.
A motion highlighting the concerns and setting out actions the city council planned to take was unanimously supported by councillors at a full council meeting yesterday evening (Thursday, July 22).
Proposed by Cllr Sam Carling (Lab,West Chesterton) he said the price increases were “cruelly” hitting hardest those who are less well off.
He said: “We are far from through this, the worst is yet to come and instead of putting genuine effective measures in place this government has spent the last year scrambling round trying to maintain what is left of its own reputation.
“As costs are rising, income is not. Years of austerity has paired public sector salaries to the bone with real time pay cuts becoming all too normal and continuing now.
“Unfortunately we in this room cannot force national government to act, but in the absence of any semblance of leadership from them it falls to us to step up and do everything we can to protect our residents from the very worst of what is going on.”
Cllr Carling said the city council had already done a lot to help, highlighting the support for the city’s food hubs.
Deputy leader Cllr Alex Collis (Lab, King’s Hedges), executive councillor for open spaces, food justice and community development, said people who were coming to the food hubs for help were “worried”.
She said: “They are worried about how they are going to manage in the coming months as energy and food bills continue to rise and the cost of living crisis gathers pace.
“People are frightened as well, they are too frightened to put their ovens on to cook the food that is donated each week.
“There were 21,210 visits to the food hubs last year and that number is going to go up, the big unknown is by how much.”
Cllr Collis highlighted data from the Food Foundation stating that 4.7million adults in the UK were food insecure.
She also highlighted that at the start of the pandemic there was a 57 per cent increase in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals in a three month period.
Cllr Collis said the impact on children in those homes was “potentially catastrophic”, saying children who are hungry can not ‘thrive or learn’.
She said the government had “consistently failed to act” as rising bills pushed more households into food insecurity, adding that while the city council would continue to support people in the city, she said the authority and volunteers “can only do so much”.
Cllr Collis said: “There is a lot of will to help in Cambridge, but the government can not keep relying on the voluntary sector to plug the gaps.
“This has to be backed up by a system that is fairer, that listens to people, and that gives them back the dignity that the slow drip, drip, drip of 12 years of austerity and now the impact of a cost of living crisis has stripped away from them.
“We all know that if we do not keep on pushing, the government does nothing, [for example] extension of free school meals, food parcels, we have had to fight for every single concession from them every step of the way.
“Let’s meet the challenge head on, let’s join the growing list of right to food cities and let’s make sure that this winter no child in Cambridge has to worry about where their next meal is coming from.”
Cllr Naomi Bennett (Green, Abbey) said she was concerned about her ward’s “resilience to winter”, highlighting that it lacked suitable heated public buildings where people could potentially go if they were struggling to afford the cost of heating their own homes.
Deputy opposition leader Cllr Cheney Payne (Lib Dem, Castle) said she agreed that the cost of living was “an absolute emergency”.
She asked for some more specific actions she said the city council could take to help people, including bringing forward a specific plan for retrofitting and insulating homes, saying this was a “real priority” not just for the climate crisis but the cost of living crisis as well.
Cllr Payne also highlighted the authority’s financial reserves, and said it felt “uncomfortable at this time” for the city council to be “frantically piling money into its reserves”, which she said should be spent on people in the city.
The city council agreed to ensure it would take a “coordinated approach” towards addressing the cost of living crisis, working with its partners, and said it would set up a dedicated officer working group to address the emergency.
The authority said it would address health and fuel inequalities through its health and heating project, and would address food insecurity by making Cambridge a Right to Food City.
For this the city council said it will call on the government to enshrine the right to food in law, and that it will write to the secretary of state to ask for them to “strengthen” the National Food Strategy to ensure it provides support for people struggling to eat.
The city council said it would continue to support the food hubs, and make sure that council decisions did not “disproportionately” impact people who are struggling.