The Government has failed to recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition and obesity in the UK and should urgently appoint a Minister for Hunger to help address the problem, an influential group of MPs has said.
In a damning report, the Environmental Audit Committee finds that levels of food insecurity in the UK, defined as “limited access to food … due to lack of money or other resources”, continues to grow and is now among the worst in Europe.
The report warns that children are among the hardest hit, with 19% of under 15s living with an adult who is moderately or severely food insecure.
Health experts have previously highlighted a rise in the number of people developing health conditions associated with hunger and malnutrition.
MPs heard from witnesses how food insecurity can lead to both malnutrition and obesity, with people forced to rely on the very cheapest foods, which are often high is calories but low in vital nutrients.
The Committee argues that the Government’s obesity strategy fails to address issues of food insecurity and only the Department for International Development mentions hunger in its Single Departmental Plan.
MPs say the government must appoint a Minister for Hunger to better understand the unfolding crisis, whose role will be to work with charities and others to analyse the scale, causes and impacts of food insecurity in the UK.
The Trussell Trust foodbank network provided 1,332,952 emergency food supplies to families in crisis between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, with 484,026 of these going to children.
In November 2018, Trussell Trust published new figures showing a 13% rise in foodbank use between April and September 2018.
The charity pointed it’s finger directly at Universal Credit, warning that even more people could become reliant on foodbanks if the five-week minimum wait for an initial payment isn’t reduced.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said: “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.
“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.
“We found that nearly one in five 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.
“This can only be addressed by setting clear UK-wide targets and by appointing a Minister for Hunger to deliver them.”