‘People can't afford to eat'

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‘People can't afford to eat'

Penny Walters talks to Hazel Healy about food poverty in the UK and suggests a solution.


Penny Walters in the kitchen at Byker Community Centre. She volunteers there as a chef twice a week. Credit: Tessa Bunney

I’ve had difficult times in my life. My husband left 10 years ago. I was a single parent when my daughter was 19 and I was stacking shelves in a supermarket. I worked seven days a week and I had about £10 ($13) left to spend on food. We ate pasta with margarine or noodles for 9p (12 cents) a packet. Because we had no food before, we keep so much food now. The cupboards are full.

As I had the problem myself, I can now help others. I’m from Byker, Newcastle, it’s a small community and about half the area is poor. I’ve worked in catering all my life and at the moment I’m cooking meals at a community kitchen in Byker twice a week as a volunteer. I make 40 or more meals for £1 ($1.30) each. And if someone comes to my house and they are looking for food, I’ll help them.

I see is that it’s about more than food – it’s about social isolation. There’s a woman round the corner who’s a bit older than me. She eats Müller Rice, yoghurts, and biscuits. She can’t read or write, she has mental-health problems and she is too frightened to go out. I give her dinner twice a week. I take it to her. When we’re shopping, we buy things for her.

A lot of people know about healthy eating but when you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money! A mother will go into an Iceland shop and buy chicken nuggets or frozen sausages for about £2 ($2.60) and a bag of frozen chips for £2 and that’s two meals. It’s cheaper to get a takeaway than to cook at home. At the fish and chip shop you can get a bag of chips, bread, gravy, battered sausage for under £5 ($6.60). Yes, it’s all processed food, full of fillers, salt, sugar, and carbohydrates but the children won’t go to bed hungry.

Where I was a child, in a mining village in County Durham, we had an allotment and grew our own vegetables and fruit. But the kids round here won’t eat fruit and vegetables because they’re not used to it – they won’t try it. And now you hear about diseases like rickets coming back…

I think they should start teaching cooking in schools again. A man who works with me now who was in the army. I say he’s my muscles because I can’t do everything I used to – and he’s learning to cook. And I help him out by looking after his dog.

It’s difficult to walk into a food bank. I’ve always been too proud to use them. You’ve got nothing, you have to walk into a place – often a church – where you don’t know people.

The biggest problem is that people can’t afford to buy healthy food. The government benefits are low, and it can be weeks before you get your money. And people don’t earn enough money – sometimes nurses come to the food bank. The government is talking about obesity now but to make a change you have to reduce the cost of fresh food or make sure people have enough money to buy it.



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)