MPs are urging the government to appoint a minister for hunger in the UK to tackle the growing problem of food insecurity, which is affecting one in five children.
The Commons environmental audit committee has accused the government of “turning a blind eye” to hunger and criticised ministers for treating hunger as an “overseas” issue, despite evidence that the UK has among the worst levels of food insecurity in Europe.
Figures show the UK is among the worst “if not the worst–in Europe, especially for children”, according to the 60-page study.
“The issues of food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition and obesity should be considered in parallel in the UK context as they are often co-located and correlated,” it says.
“Government has failed to recognise and respond to these issues within the UK.”
Some 19% of under-15s live with an adult who is “moderately or severely food insecure, of whom half are severely food insecure”, the report warns.
It blames the “growing prevalence of food insecurity in both the working and non-working population” on “rising living costs and stagnating wages”.
Groups described as particularly vulnerable groups include the unemployed, the quarter of families with the lowest incomes, people with disabilities or illnesses, families with children, and single parents.
And in a fresh blow to the Government’s flagship welfare overhaul, it claims: “Surges in demand for emergency food aid have been linked to Universal Credit , due to waiting times, delays in payments, debt and loan repayments, and benefit sanctions.”
Committee chairwoman, Labour MP Mary Creagh, said: “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.”
Chief executive Emma Revie said: “We fully support the committee’s call for a Minister for Hunger and a measurement of food insecurity.
“A failure to address the root causes of poverty has led to soaring need for foodbanks, with more than 1.3 million food parcels provided to people by our network last year.
“It’s not right that anyone in our country faces hunger, and it’s not inevitable.
“It’s time for the Government to take concrete steps towards a UK where everyone has enough money for food.
“Although foodbank 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.”
Food redistribution charity City Harvest’s boss Laura Winningham said: “We cannot look at food poverty in isolation.
“We estimate that a staggering 13 million meals a month of commercial food waste that is technically recoverable is currently being wasted.
“We need stronger commitments from the food industry to tackle this food waste mountain and more government funding for food rescue organisations like ours to enable us to scale up and meet the ever-increasing demand.”
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