Government continues to bury their head in the sand over food insecurity
Shadow Education Minister Emma Lewell-Buck writes for PoliticsHome ahead of her debate on food insecurity calling for the Government to act.
‘People are going hungry, and, with each passing day of this terrible excuse for a Government, more and more are falling into poverty, with little or no chance of escape. There are no second chances in Britain today. Food poverty is a clear consequence of the Government’s ideological assault on the social safety net and the people who rely on it. One hungry person is a complete disgrace, but thousands of hungry people are a national disaster’. This is a quote from a speech I made in the House exactly two years ago.
Fast forward to today and over 8 million people in Britain, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, are estimated to be living in a food insecure households which means they are regularly going hungry or are malnourished.
But the Government have continued to bury their heads in the sand and are refusing to even implement a national measurement of how many households are not able to provide consistent food at sufficient levels in the UK.
I assume they think if they don’t measure the problem, it doesn’t officially exist and therefore they do not have to take responsibility or do anything about it.
What we do know is the terrible impact food insecurity has on households and on wider society: how parents are unable to afford to feed their children nutritiously balanced meals; how this breeds a sense of shame, stress, anxiety and social isolation. Many adults and children go whole days without eating in this day and age, simply for the lack of money.
Our best estimates suggest half a million different people received food assistance from the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of emergency food aid providers, in 2014/15. However Trussell Trust are not the only organisation offering food parcels and many, indeed most, food insecure people don’t access emergency food aid.
It is simply not acceptable that foodbanks and food insecurity on this Government’s watch are now entrenched as being unofficially part of the welfare state.
Yet the problem is set to get worse.
The drop in the value of sterling as a result of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit means that food prices are going to start to rise which will put even further pressure on households struggling to put food on the table. Healthier food costs on average two and a half times the amount of food high in fat, salt and sugar. When you are really hungry, you don’t have the privilege of choosing what you eat. You eat whatever you can afford. But cheaper food is often less nutritious.
It has proven immensely difficult to secure a commitment for a standard measurement tool from Government.
This data gap could easily be closed through the insertion of a short list of questions into an existing annual survey instrument so there is no reason or cost implication preventing the Government from doing this.
Millions are suffering, many in silence, because of the stigma and humiliation associated with poverty and hunger. We must act urgently to end this scourge on our society and measuring the scale of the problem is the first step in eradicating this grotesque blight on society.
Emma Lewell-Buck is a shadow education minister and Labour MP for South Shields
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