LEICESTER, United Kingdom – People seeking asylum in England’s capital have serious problems accessing food according to a new report.

Serious concerns were raised about food provided in catered accommodation by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming. The report – Food experiences of people seeking asylum in London: areas for local action – showed evidence of poor food safety and lack of provision for people with medical conditions and allergies, in some cases leading to hospitalization.

Key issues were also raised about unsafe infant feeding, with parents lacking access to equipment to sterilize and store bottles, and food being inappropriate for children, who were losing significant amounts of weight.

London has a population of around 8.8 million people, with 14.8 million living in the metropolitan area. Around 40 percent of the city’s population is born outside the United Kingdom.

Sustain worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service UK and Life Seekers Aid to conduct the research between October 2023 and February 2024.

“For years, JRS UK have worked with people made destitute by the asylum process and facing food insecurity,” said Sarah Teather, the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

The report found that people seeking asylum lack money, have little to no kitchen access, and are given inadequate food provision. It says this is leading to concerning health outcomes including undernourishment in children and diabetes in adults, as well as demoralization and damage to mental health.

For many people, asylum claims take several years, and advocacy groups say poor food experiences are impacting their wellbeing during this time.

“We see the profound harm this does them. This report shares their stories, and those of other people at different stages of the asylum process,” said Teather.

“As we read their stories – stories of mothers with no choice but to put their children to bed crying in hunger – we should reflect on our society,” she said.

“It is not an accident that people in the asylum system struggle to access the food they need. It is the result of a deliberate policy to force people seeking sanctuary to live in poverty,” she continued.

Teather said the new report gives insight into the deep human cost of that policy.

“It also gives a window onto instances where local communities have come together to begin to shape a more human response. It demonstrates that a different approach is possible – and badly needed. Change is long overdue,” she said.

Isabel Rice, London Food Poverty Campaign Coordinator at Sustain said the “shocking findings” of the report are a clear call to action.

“People seeking sanctuary in this country should have their nutritional needs met, and agency over the food they eat. This report reveals that this is not happening, with catastrophic impacts on people’s physical and mental health,” she said.

“People want to have choice over what they eat and be able to cook their own meals. This was particularly important to mothers, who are deeply impacted by not being able to provide for their children and watching them become malnourished,” she continued.

The new report says London continues to face multiple serious threats, which occur around crises of the cost-of-living, climate, and nutrition-related diseases.

“We truly commend the progress shown by London councils, and we urge councils to continue to prioritize this vital work. We hope you are inspired by what you read in this report and what we can achieve with local action on food,” the report says.

This report has been amended.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome