A watchdog has called on the government to make more money available for prison food following concerns over a daily budget for prisoners of just over £2 a day per prisoner, a fifth of the money spent on hospital patients. The call was made in the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Board into HMP Wealstun, a category C prison holding more than 800 men near Wetherby, West Yorkshire. The IMB called on the new justice minister Dominic Raab ‘to consider increasing the daily food allowance, as £2.02 is an extremely small amount to feed adult men and provide the nutrition they require’.
According to Inside Time, the sum must provide each prisoner with a breakfast pack, a cold meal and a hot meal and has not been increased since ‘at least 2016’. In 2019, then justice minister Lord Keen told the House of Lords HM Prison and Probation Service allocated food budgets to prisons ‘based on £2.02 per prisoner per day, which covers the daily prisoner food and beverage requirements’.
Accoridng to a 2016 inquiry into prison food by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, spending on food in prisons has been decreasing. In 2014–15, the total expenditure on food in prisons was £54m, down from £60m in 2012. That year the basic budget per prisoner per day was previously £2.02. But the report noted all prisons now have the autonomy to set their own budgets ‘and in some prisons as little as £1.87 per prisoner per day was spent’. Prison food can be bolstered by prison-grown produce.
This compared to the average daily spend per patient on in-patient food services in hospitals in 2014–15 of £9.88. There is no measurement of the calorific content of prison meals either under prison rules or by the Ministry of Justice.
The Wealstun report noted: ‘The kitchen continues to look at innovation to maximise the effectiveness of the £2.02 per prisoner per day budget. Of note has been the baking of homemade bread and pizza, together with a range of dessert products from the in-house bakery. The prison farm and gardens provide a supply of fresh produce for the kitchens, but not as much as in previous years because of Covid restrictions.’
‘Poor nutritional provision can, not only have a lasting impact on the wellbeing of an individual in custody, but it is also costly to the custodial estate,’ said the 2016 report. ‘Various medical complications that arise from poor nutrition, including nutritional deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high cholesterol, add burden to prison health resources. Food can also affect security resourcing and safety in prison, as frustration over food can serve as a catalyst for aggression and dissent.’
The lack of food and its poor quality are theme of prisoners’ letters to Inside Time. The 2016 report quoted one, saying: ‘If there isn’t seconds of food then I’m still hungry. I received seven chips, one sausage and a spoon of beans yesterday for my tea. I’m 6’2″ and that won’t fill up a kid.’