Britain must turn the tide to ensure every child has access to nutritious food
Over the last few years, the movement to end child food poverty has snowballed. From grassroots campaigning to support from celebrities like Marcus Rashford, Olivia Colman and Kate Winslet, and government pledges to extend free school meals, the fight to give kids the best possible start in life has captured the hearts of the nation.
It’s clear that the British public recognise child nutrition as one of the defining issues of our times.
I have been campaigning for young people’s right to food since I was 15 years old. I know what it’s like to grow up without proper access to nutritious food. So I am always heartened when I see the widespread support for this vital issue in the United Kingdom. However, it has also become clear to me that our approach to providing the same care to vulnerable children around the world is falling short.
It is within the UK’s power to help tackle the issue of hunger both at home and abroad
Malnutrition accounts for nearly 45 per cent of deaths of children under five, claiming the lives of over two million a year. It blights lives and communities, driving inequality and insecurity, and damaging global health. In the past, the UK was an international leader in tackling this issue. The UK is estimated to have spent between £2.6bn and £5bn to fund nutrition between 2013-2020, saving millions of lives, and committed a further £1.5bn between 2022-2030 to nutrition programmes.
However, with mounting budgetary pressures at home, the impact of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, the UK has cut its aid funding and stepped back from the world stage. At the same time, insecurity and climate change are deepening food scarcity around the world. From famine in parts of East Africa to the trade implications of global conflict, the challenges beyond our shores are as great as they have ever been. Current projections by Unicef suggest nearly 600 million people – the majority women and girls – will still face hunger at the end of the decade.
These challenges are not insurmountable. It is within the UK’s power to help tackle the issue of hunger both at home and abroad, even in the context of restricted spending. We are uniquely positioned to help drive progress on malnutrition, with strong diplomatic ties and a legacy of leadership in development. Hunger to Health: a UK action plan to turn the tide on malnutrition and hunger is a new five-year plan which would allow the UK government to scale up targeted life-saving malnutrition interventions via strategic allocation of aid spending.
If implemented, the plan could save over 718 thousand lives and deliver over 300 million interventions to women and children at risk around the world. It involves addressing child deaths from malnutrition head-on, through use of the Power 4 interventions: emergency therapeutic food, prenatal vitamins, breastfeeding support, and vitamin A supplementation. These are identified as among the most cost-effective and lifesaving measures ready to be scaled today.
But Hunger to Health goes beyond the provision of food to explore how the UK can help build sustainable and climate-resilient food systems, while galvanising a global movement to end global malnutrition. In this way, the UK can lead the way in addressing the broader impacts of food insecurity, shoring up health systems, reducing poverty and insecurity, and promoting gender equality.
We already know that feeding hungry children is popular with voters. It’s also just the right thing to do. Any UK government is going to face difficult choices in the coming years but we cannot turn our backs on the world’s poorest. As next year’s general election approaches, British policymakers must take a bold stance on global malnutrition. Not only is good nutrition fundamental to development, it’s also one of the best value-for-money investments possible, with a return of over £13 for every pound spent.
We know what we can achieve in giving vulnerable children the best start in life. We have done it before, both at home and abroad. Britain needs to come back to the table and resume leadership on nutrition intervention. The upcoming summit on food security and nutrition, due to be hosted in the UK next month, is a great moment to signal renewed commitment and start implementing the Hunger to Health plan.
Christina Adane, food poverty campaigner
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