Food inequality: The remarkable work of Caroline’s Hot Food Service

Health and social inequalities remain critical issues in the UK, with vulnerable populations bearing the brunt of economic hardships. The inspiring story of Caroline Dove and Becky Ward, a mother-daughter duo from March, Cambridgeshire, illustrates how grassroots efforts can create significant positive change in communities.

The genesis of Caroline’s Hot Food Service

Caroline Dove, 61, and her daughter Becky Ward, 30, initiated Caroline’s Hot Food service from their kitchen in 2022. This noble venture was sparked by Caroline’s experience caring for her late mother, who managed to get by on very little.

“I just thought I want to give something back, because we are all hitting hard times,” Caroline explained. Her ethos is simple yet profound: “I always say I’m not giving them a handout, I’m giving them a hand up until they can support themselves.”

Rising demand amidst economic challenges

Since its inception, Caroline’s Hot Food service has witnessed a surge in demand. Initially targeting elderly individuals, the service now caters to families with young children, reflecting broader societal distress exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.

The most heart-wrenching stories come from those like an elderly woman resorting to dog food to survive and children going hungry due to their families’ financial constraints. Becky Ward shared,

“One of my elderly ladies was actually buying dog food because it was cheaper than human food.”

The cost of compassion

Operating twice a week, Caroline and Becky cook 70 to 150 portions per session, depending on demand. The financial burden is significant, costing them around £90 each time. Despite this, they persist, driven by the visible impact of their work.

Sharon Elliot, a beneficiary with limited mobility, praises them as “guardian angels” who do “remarkable” work. Connor Clarke, a 19-year-old from Wisbech, highlighted the importance of their service:

“If it weren’t for her I’d probably do the food bank. They are going out of their way to make sure they are giving back to the community.”

Addressing inequalities through behavioural science

Charities and not-for-profit organisations like Caroline’s Hot Food service play a crucial role in bridging the gap left by systemic inequalities.

Their approach aligns with findings in behavioural science, which emphasise the importance of immediate, tangible support in improving individual outcomes. For instance, research by Mullainathan and Shafir (2013) in their book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” highlights how alleviating immediate pressures allows individuals to plan better for the future (DOI: 10.2307/42513280).

The broader context of food inequality

Government statistics underscore the severity of the issue. According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), around 14 million people in the UK live in poverty, including 4.5 million children. The cost of living crisis has only exacerbated these figures, with inflation and rising energy costs stretching household budgets to breaking point.

Change driven by the community

Caroline’s Hot Food service is a beacon of hope in challenging times. By addressing immediate needs and providing a supportive community, Caroline and Becky are making a tangible difference in the lives of many. Their story is a testament to the power of grassroots initiatives and the critical role they play in tackling health and social inequalities.

For those inspired by their work, supporting similar local initiatives or volunteering time and resources can contribute to creating lasting change.