The Times Saturday 25th May 2002, p.14
By Alexandra Frean, Social Affairs Correspondent
SHOPPERS in the East End of London are being given food vouchers to
spend at a local farmers' market to encourage healthy eating among
people on low incomes.
By subsidising premium-quality produce, the scheme in Bromley-by-Bow
also aims to entice farmers' markets into working-class neighbourhoods
from the middle-class areas to which they are usually confined.
The vouchers are being made available to Bromley-by-Bow residents who
are referred by GPs and social care workers to a local Healthy Living
Centre which is administering the scheme. They receive four £2.50
vouchers each month to spend on fruit and vegetables and are not allowed
to spend more than £5 worth of vouchers per market stall.
Although commonplace in the United States, food vouchers have long
been regarded as a controversial method of welfare in Britain. When they
were introduced for asylum seekers in 1999, critics said they would
stigmatise an entire group of people.
Nina Planck, an American woman who masterminded the Bromley-by-Bow
scheme, said she had been taken aback by the initial horrified response
to her idea.
"I really wanted to start a market in the East End, but I was told
they (vouchers) were insulting and the government had no
business telling people how to spend their money," she said. "In America
there is no stigma associated with discounts."
Ms Planck, who founded the London Farmers' Markets organisation three
years ago, added that the US government subsidises farmers' market
vouchers with £30 million annually. There, the uptake among
those eligible is 85 per cent for pensioners and 70 per cent for women
with young children.
"Middle-class liberals here may say it's patronising, but they still
queue up for money-off schemes like supermarket reward cards," Ms Planck
Paul Brickell, chief executive of Leaside Regeneration Limited, which
raised the money for the Bromley-by-Bow scheme from the government's
Single Regeneration Budget, said that the vouchers had proved so popular
with locals that there had been long queues for them.
"We were worried initially that people might see the vouchers as
stigmatising and associate them with poverty," Mr Brickell said. "But
we overcame that by associating them in people's mind with healthy
"Just like a GP might hand out a prescription for medicine or refer
people to an exercise programme, we give them vouchers for healthy
He added that the scheme was aimed specifically at helping reduce the
high rate of diabetes and heart conditions among the local population,
particularly in the Bangladeshi community, which were caused in part by
The food voucher programme also has a wider aim of improving local
diets. It is part of a regeneration scheme, supported by the London
Development Agency and designed to improve the physical, social and
economic environment of Bromley-by-Bow.
"The farmers' market is right next to studios where they shoot
(TV series) Big Brother and London's Burning,"
Mr Brickell said.
"There are lots of jobs there but many people never go because it is
separated from the main housing estates by a big road."
"We want to connect the farmers' market with people who live on the
other side of the road."