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Government must go further to tackle hunger in UK

26 June 2019

The Environmental Audit Committee publishes Government Repsonse to Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up report.

Government must go further to tackle hunger in UK – MPs

  • Committee's call for a Minister for Hunger rejected by Government;
  • Long school holidays risk summer of hunger for poorest children;
  • Food insecurity significant and growing in the UK – and levels are among the worst in Europe;
  • One in five under-15s live with an adult who is moderately or severely food insecure.

The Government does not plan to appoint a Minister for Hunger, despite calls from the Environmental Audit Committee in a report earlier this year.

In January, the EAC's report, Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK, painted a stark picture, concluding that food insecurity is significant and growing in the UK, with levels among the worst in Europe, especially for children.

MPs found that the Government had failed to recognise and respond and has allowed these issues to ‘fall between the cracks'. The Government's obesity strategy was criticised for being silent on food insecurity and the Committee called for a minister to be appointed to ensure-cross departmental action.

In today's response to the report, the Government has made some commitments to measure and respond to the issue but rejects the call for a minister. In summary:

  • Minister for Hunger: The Government is not planning to appoint a minister, but recognises the need to explore the scale and drivers of food insecurity. The response sets out details of new food insecurity questions introduced by the DWP in the Family Resources Survey to monitor the issue at national level. The DWP is working to improve links between job centres and food banks and will publish a literature review of the drivers of food bank use later this year, which will be used to shape future policy.
  • Targets and measuring hunger: The Government sees collecting information on food insecurity in the Family Resources Survey, alongside other household data on income and living circumstances, as an important first step to demonstrate progress in tackling this issue. Data will be collected from April 2019-March 2020 with the results expected by the end of March 2021. The DWP is working with food banks to identify some of the key issues experienced by vulnerable customers. However, Government does not commit to include hunger reduction targets from the SDGs in the Single Departmental Plans, or to measure the role of Universal Credit in driving hunger in the UK.
  • Obesity strategy: The Government recognises that it is possible to be a healthy weight or overweight and still be malnourished. It stated that it remains committed to reviewing what more can be done to combat obesity in the UK, and will continue to monitor progress and emerging evidence carefully.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said:

“Being the hungry man of Europe brings shame on our country. Many adults do not bring home enough money to feed their families thanks to high living costs, stagnating wages, and Universal Credit and the wider benefit system.

“As a result, many children rely on free school meals to get the quality nutritious food they need. With the long school holidays just around the corner, thousands of kids face a summer of hunger.

“While Government has acknowledged some of the points in our report, it has failed to appoint a Minister for Hunger responsible for cross-departmental action. Today's Government Voluntary National Review ignores the fact that the UK's growing food insecurity crisis means that we are not on track to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

The UK's Voluntary National Review

The Government has today published its Voluntary National Review (VNR) of its progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The VNR is intended to be a process by which countries take stock of and assess progress – and shortcomings – in the implementation of the goals and targets.

The Environmental Audit Committee's report in January found that food insecurity is significant and growing in the UK, with levels among the worst in Europe, especially for children.

In assessing Government's progress against Sustainable Development Goal 2: “Zero Hunger,” the VNR acknowledges that 10% of households in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have “low or very low food security,” with a further 10% of households classified as “marginally food secure”. However, these figures are ignored in the review's higher-level conclusion. The VNR finds instead that “the UK has a high degree of national food security”.

The VNR also does not make any mention of food insecurity figures for children, or of the presence of holiday hunger amongst children in England or in the UK context, and refers to food banks use only in Scotland and Wales. The Trussell Trust has reported that it distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis across the whole UK between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, a 19% increase on the previous year. More than half a million of these went to children.

On the Voluntary National Review, Mary Creagh MP, said:

“Government has whitewashed the troublingly high levels of food insecurity in the UK in its Voluntary National Review, particularly for children. It has overlooked the significant concerns voiced by Parliament and civil society around the UK's food insecurity crisis to give a misleading picture of Government's performance against SDG2: Zero Hunger.

“Government has missed the opportunity to honestly assess its performance against the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Further information

Image: Maria Gershuni/wikimediacommons