2024 General Election Party Manifestos: Food Active Round Up

2024 General Election Party Manifestos: Food Active Round Up

One week today, voters in the United Kingdom will be heading to the polls to cast their vote for the party they want to see form the next government. Over the last few weeks, parties have published their manifesto’s which aim to highlight to the voters what they would prioritise if they won the election.

The Election is timely as Food Active relaunches new policy calls; an ambitious set of evidenced-based recommendations designed to promote healthy weight and reduce health inequalities.

Our policy calls have been revised in consultation with our North West local authority network, and represent a broad range of policy issues themed into the following four areas:

  • Advocating for healthy weight in all policies through local, regional and national action: including uplifts to the public health grant and greater powers for local authorities to influence healthier weight.
  • Reducing the availability, marketing and advertising of less healthy food and drink: including building on the success of the soft drinks industry levy, protecting children from the marketing of less healthy food and drink (including commercially available baby food) through TV, online media, sports sponsorship, outdoors and marketing by price and place in supermarkets, improving food and drink packaging, ending the sale of energy drinks to children and strategies to improve the out of home food environment.
  • Reducing the prevalence of food insecurity and increasing access to a healthy, sustainable and affordable diet for all: including uplifts to Healthy Start vouchers, extending Free School Meals, expanding the HAF programme and ensure the cost of healthy and sustainable diets is taken into consideration when setting benefits levels and the national minimum wage.
  • Promoting inclusive healthy weight environments and settings: including increasing access to tap water, improving the school food environment, strategies to promote better health and wellbeing in the early years, measures to increase physical activity through promoting active environments and active travel and taking steps to tackle weight stigma in strategies, campaigns and communications.

Read our new policy calls below.

But how did manifestos from the four of the largest political parties compare to our new policy priority areas? We’ve read through over 350 pages, so you don’t have to…


Advocating for healthy weight in all policies through local, regional and national action.

The Liberal Democrats manifesto appears to offer up a number of priorities in line with our first policy call theme; with pledges to increase the public health grant and provide greater powers to local authorities to implement healthier advertising policies, as well as tackle climate and nature emergencies. The Greens have also acknowledged the need to address funding issues associated with the public health grant; but disappointing to see no such recognition within the Labour and Conservative party. However, we welcome Labour’s proposal to support local authorities restrict new fast-food takeaways opening near schools.

 

Reducing the availability, marketing and advertising of less healthy food and drink.

A range of policy measures are referenced in party manifestos relating to our second policy call theme, which seeks to take less healthy food and drink out of the spotlight – from tackling advertising across all platforms, sports sponsorship, in-store, on-pack, and beyond. It is promising to see cross-party support (except for the Greens) for pushing ahead with the long-awaited, and much delayed, advertising restrictions on less healthy food and drink on TV and online media. We are interested to see Labour reference how sport will be used to promote exercise and healthy living, and would strongly welcome initial steps to ensure sports stars, teams and leagues move away from promoting less healthy food and drink.

The Lib Dems were the only party to express interest on building on the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to juice and milk-based drinks. It’s encouraging to see Labour commit to introducing a sales restriction on energy drinks; something the Food Active programme has campaigned on since its inception over 10 years ago – the evidence is clear that these drinks are not suitable for children, so it is disappointing to not see other parties commit to a similar policy. There has been some indication that, the Lib Dems and Greens would improve food packaging should they take office, however little detail on how far this would go and whether promotional activities such as child-friendly characters and competitions, prizes and giveaways featured on less healthy food and drink packaging would be in scope.

 

Reducing the prevalence of food insecurity and increasing access to a healthy, sustainable and affordable diet for all.      

Again, a range of policy measures that seek to reduce the prevalence of food insecurity; and increase access to healthy, sustainable and affordable diets for everyone. Firstly, it is disappointing to see no mention of expanding the Healthy Start scheme or Holiday Activities and Food programme in any of the manifestos. These schemes are often referred to as a nutritional safety net for low-income families and can help to increase access to healthy food for babies, children and teenagers who need it most, so given the ongoing issues relating to the cost of living and food inflation, this is a missed opportunity for all parties. However, the Lib Dems and Greens have pledged to extend Free School Meals – the Greens have pledged universal access for all primary school children (and a free breakfast), with the Lib Dems stating the scheme will be extended to ‘all children in poverty’; it is not clear how this will be defined, but we hope in the first instance this will be to all children living in households in receipt of Universal Credit, to then take a universal approach in the future. Both the Labour and Conservative Party fail to mention the need to expand Free School Meals in either of their manifestos, although Labour does pledge to offer a free healthy breakfast for all primary school children. In terms of ensuring the cost of healthy and sustainable diets is taken into consideration when setting benefits levels and the national minimum wage; the Greens are clear that everyone in soceity will have sufficient income to make healthy sustainable food choices, although detail on how this will be achieved is limited. The Lib Dems pledge to introduce a National Food Strategy which will end food poverty and also take steps to reduce child poverty which could have a positive impact on household income, and therefore access to healthy food. Labour also makes a series of pledges around reviewing Universal Credit and ending the demand for food banks; with the Conservatives stating they will maintain Universal Credit; without any uplifts to the value of universal credit, this would ultimately mean families will continue to struggle to manage household bills, including food.

 

Promoting inclusive healthy weight environments and settings.

Our final policy call theme focuses on promoting inclusive, healthy weight environments and settings. The current manifestos demonstrate cross-party support for increasing active travel, however the Greens (understandably) are the strongest party with pledges to adopt Active Travel England’s ambitious objective of 50% of trips in England’s towns and cities to be walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030, increasing access to green spaces through legislation and over two billion pounds annual investment into new cycle and walkways. Our policy call to improve the school food environment is not directly addressed by any political party. This is a significant missed opportunity given the publication of our Fuelling the Future report, which highlights the number of challenges schools are facing in providing a healthy food and drink offer for pupils and meeting the school food standards; manifestos describe the importance of improving the education system however fail to recognise the important role food can play in children’s academic attainment. Lib Dems and Greens reference increases to school funding, but it is not clear if this will cover school food.

We are pleased to see the Conservatives pledge to roll out Family Hubs in each local authority in England, building on the initial 75 local authorities who are already benefiting from these hubs in recent years. These hubs are a key point of access and support for young children and their families, including breastfeeding support. The Greens also pledge to invest in Sure Start centres locally, however it is notable that the Labour Party do not feature any such commitment within their manifesto. The Lib Dems reference expanding early access to health services, but it is not specified what these services would be.

None of the political party’s pledge to increase access to tap water across local communities, and only the Lib Dems reference the importance of challenging weight stigma. Over recent  years, Food Active have produced a number of resources to support local authorities raise awareness of weight stigma and how to tackle it – but national leadership is needed to set the precedent that weight stigma will not be accepted within society.

 

Round Up

Whilst no single manifesto meets all the Food Active policy priority areas, it is promising to see some of the key calls we have been campaigning on since our inception – including advertising of less healthy food and drink restrictions and a sales restriction on energy drinks to children. In particular, one encouraging highlight is the cross-party support for restricting the advertising of less healthy food and drink, and we impress upon the incoming government to prioritise this policy measure to ensure the October 2025 implementation date is met.

However, there are a number of missed opportunities, in particular policies designed to increase access to healthier food and drink and tackle food insecurity. Healthy Start is a well-established scheme, however the current set up means many families who would hugely benefit from the vouchers are missing out. In addition, eligible families are missing out due to difficulties in enrolling and the vouchers are not in line with inflation meaning families are getting less for their money. We are also disappointed to see neither the Labour Party nor Conversative Party pledge to expand Free School Meals; 800,000 children living in poverty are currently not eligible for Free School Meals. Expanding Healthy Start and Free School Meals eligibility would be an effective way to support families that are struggling during the cost-of-living crisis.

This summary focuses on the specific policy measures that are related to Food Active’s core programme of work and specific policy calls; however, they are references within the party manifestos that refer to improvements to public sector procurement, in addition to cross-government working and research funding which are two important areas that will impact the food policy agenda.

The next seven days will present a period of intensive canvassing and debate, which will be monitored with interest by a range of stakeholders, as we await the outcome of the election results and future opportunities to embed effective and robust public health policy.

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