MPs have demanded a “minister for hunger” be appointed by the Government to tackle the “scandal” of hunger and malnutrition affecting millions, including children, in the UK.
The Environmental Audit Committee said it was “concerned that an item as significant as hunger and food insecurity in the UK has fallen between the cracks”, and noted that levels of hunger in Britain are “some of the highest across Europe”.
There is a “doughnut-shaped hole” in domestic attempts to meet a UN-set goal of zero hunger and malnutrition by 2030, it warns in a new report.
The committee called for the new post to oversee a cross-Government plan to tackle food insecurity, which is defined as “limited access to food… due to lack of money or other resources”.
The report, released on Thursday, noted: “Food insecurity is a significant and growing issue in the UK, with figures from The Food and Agriculture Organisation and The Food Foundation showing that levels are among the worst, if not the worst in Europe, especially for children.
“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.
“Government has failed to recognise and respond to these issues within the UK.”
The committee chairwoman, Labour’s Mary Creagh, warned while many are still recovering from Christmas excess, “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”.
She said: “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.”
In its report into “Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK”, the committee found the Government’s widely publicised obesity strategy made no mention of “food insecurity”.
Also, the only ministry with a so-called single departmental plan (SDP) to tackle hunger was International Development, which tackles the problem abroad.
The report cited figures from Unicef, which found in June 2017 that in the UK approximately 19% of children under age 15 lived with an adult who was moderately or severely food insecure, of whom half are severely food insecure.
Separate figures from the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (Bapen) said the number of “undernourished” people in the UK was three million, with 1.3 million of those aged over 65.
The UK, along with other UN members, signed up to 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015, which set targets to be met by 2030.
SDG 2, called Zero Hunger, aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.
The report found almost one-in-five children aged under 15 lived with an adult who was “moderately or severely food insecure”, with the unemployed, the poorest, the disabled and single parents among those likely to be worst affected.
A Government spokeswoman said: “Household incomes have never been higher and the number of children living in workless households is at a record low, but we know there’s more to do to ensure that every family has access to nutritious, healthy food.
“We already provide support through free school meals and our Healthy Start Vouchers, while we spend £90 billion a year on working-age welfare and will be spending £28 billion more by 2022 than we do now.”