When UN poverty investigator Philip Alston toured the UK in November 2018, he was shocked by what he found: “rapidly multiplying” food banks, children living in destitution, and, according to his report, the very real consequences of 10 years of political austerity.
“In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one,” Alston wrote.
The government said it “completely disagreed” with Alston’s analysis. But two months later, MPs are urging it to take action — and to appoint a minister for hunger to tackle growing food insecurity in the UK.
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The Commons environmental audit committee — a group that examines the effectiveness of government policy on sustainable development — accused the government of “turning a blind eye” to almost 2 million people in the UK who might be undernourished.
More than 8 million people struggle to put food on the table, according to the Food Foundation, and the committee have urged the UK to create a new public role to investigate the origins and impact of the issue and implement plans to fix it.
“Many of us are still recovering from Christmas excess but the sad fact is that more children are growing up in homes where parents don’t have enough money to put food on the table,” said committee chair Mary Creagh MP.
The Government has failed to recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition and obesity in the UK and should appoint a Minister for Hunger to ensure action.— Environmental Audit Committee (@CommonsEAC) January 10, 2019
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“The combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and often, the rollout of Universal Credit and the wider benefits system, means that levels of hunger in Britain are some of the highest across Europe,” Creagh said. “We found that nearly 1 in 5 children under 15 are living in a food insecure home — a scandal which cannot be allowed to continue.”
“Instead of seeing hunger as an issue abroad, the government’s new year resolution should be one of taking urgent action at home to tackle hunger and malnutrition,” she added. “This can only be addressed by setting clear UK-wide targets and by appointing a Minister for Hunger to deliver them.”
The report suggested that food insecurity is a "significant and growing" problem that doesn’t match up to the government's pledge in 2015 to work “tirelessly” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a set of 17 objectives to end global extreme poverty by 2030, including a promise to end world hunger.
Basically, it argues that we are failing to live up to our own expectations.
But a government spokesperson responded by saying that “household incomes have never been higher”, although acknowledging that “there's more to do” to combat poor nutrition.
In the last year, the Trussell Trust gave out 1.3 million emergency packages to people at food banks across the country. It operates a network of 420 food banks — and Emma Revie, its chief executive, told the BBC that the organisation backed calls for a hunger minister.
"It's time for the government to take concrete steps towards a UK where everyone has enough money for food," she said. "Although food bank volunteers are providing vital support to those in crisis, no charity can replace people having enough money for the basics.
"To end hunger, we need to understand the true scale of the challenge, and work across government to ensure everyone is anchored from being swept into poverty,” she said.
It’s been almost exactly a year since Theresa May appointed a minister for loneliness, a role created to support the 9 million lonely adults in the UK. Then in October 2018, the prime minister created another position for suicide prevention as she hosted the world’s first global mental health summit.
We fully support @CommonsEAC call for a Minister for Hunger and a measurement of food insecurity. Although #foodbanks are providing vital support to those in crisis, no charity can replace people having enough money for the basics. Our response in full > https://t.co/M9Fz4rggtFpic.twitter.com/XJ6pMfTEMY— The Trussell Trust (@TrussellTrust) January 10, 2019