Emma Lewell-Buck: This can be the parliament that finally ends hunger in Britain

Posted On: 
1st February 2018

The Food Insecurity Bill will ensure policy-makers understand the true scale of 'hidden hunger' in the UK, writes Emma Lewell-Buck

"It's heartbreaking that so many people are going to bed hungry and waking up hungry in 21st Century Britain," Lewell-Buck writes
Credit: 
PA

On Friday 2nd February MPs will have an opportunity to help end hunger in the United Kingdom when my Bill, the Food Insecurity Bill, receives its second reading.

The Bill is straightforward. It simply asks that the government inserts some new questions into a nationwide analysis, the Living Costs and Food Survey, which is already conducted. By replacing current, redundant questions asking about fruit and vegetables that people consume which is grown in their own gardens or allotments with specific questions such as ‘In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry, but didn’t eat, because there wasn’t enough money for food?’, the Bill will also be cost neutral.

This is the perfect time to add these questions, as the government is currently combining the Living Costs and Food Survey with the Survey on Living Conditions. The outcomes of the survey can be reported to Parliament on an annual basis. The new questions will be approved in advance and are similar to those used in the United States Household Food Security Survey.

The United Nations estimates that over 8 million people in the UK are food insecure. UNICEF estimates that 10% of children in the UK are living in households affected by severe food insecurity. There are more than 2,000 food banks that we know of in operation, with rising levels of hospital admissions due to malnutrition costing the NHS £12bn per year. The cost of living is outstripping average wages, there are record levels of in-work poverty. With warnings that Brexit will push up food prices, and continued punitive welfare reform changes leading to the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicting further rises in child poverty levels over the next three years, it is very clear that the time for this Bill is now. We need new questions for new times.

The Food Standards Agency conducted a survey in 2016, finding that a third of households in the lowest income quartile are ‘often or sometimes worried about running out of food before there was money to buy more’. However, this was a one-off survey and there are no plans for the FSA to routinely measure food insecurity.

Even given these stark figures, the true picture is likely to be far worse as we don’t know what the true scale of hunger is.

What about those who don’t go to their local foodbanks, who don’t visit their local GP, who don’t ask for help either out of embarrassment, pride or simply not knowing where to go for assistance?

What about the one million lonely pensioners starving in their homes, as reported by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger? They are the UK’s legions of hidden hungry.

We know that what gets measured gets done. Without a robust measurement in place, policy making to mitigate hunger will never be a reality.

A recent poll found that 77% of adults agree that the government should measure hunger. The Bill is supported by over 20 national organisations and by MPs across the House. Previously, cross-party reports from the Hunger APPG and the Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee have also advocated measurement of hunger.

The simple fact is that no one should be going to bed hungry and waking up hungry in 21st Century Britain. It is heart-breaking that so many do.

I hope as many colleagues as possible will join me so that we can be the Parliament that ends hunger.

Emma Lewell-Buck is Labour MP for South Shields. The second reading of the Food Insecurity Bill is on Friday 2 February