A minister for hunger should not need to exist in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Yet a cross-party group of MPs has said the role is necessary.
This is because, according to the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), the government “has failed to recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition and obesity in the UK”.
With the release of a damning report, the EAC said: “Food insecurity is significant and growing in the UK, with levels among the worst in Europe, especially for children”. The committee says the proposed minister would help “ensure cross-departmental understanding and action”.
The EAC said levels of food insecurity, defined as going hungry, being at risk of going hungry, or being worried about going hungry because of a shortage of money, is worse here than in most of Europe. Nearly one in five children under 15 lives with an adult who is “moderately or severely food insecure”, according to the report.
The Conservative Party has been in power for nine years and there has been consistent criticism of state-sanctioned austerity measures and their impact on the young, including from teachers. The negative impact of food insecurity and hunger on children’s health, behaviour and performance at school are well recognised by paediatricians.
No child deserves to have their opportunities in life and future eaten away by economic and political circumstances they did not create. And other vulnerable people should not have to suffer in this way either.
High living costs, stagnating wages and problems associated with the Tories’ Universal Credit are contributing factors to food insecurity and malnutrition, according to the report, which can result in obesity as well as emaciation. As we can all see in shops, products with little nutritional value are often cheaper than more nourishing food.
I must admit that when I heard that a minister for hunger had been proposed, I was scathing. Just as, no doubt, many others were. However, my anger is not directed at the compassionate people suggesting it, but that we have found ourselves in a situation where we need a minister for hunger in today’s ‘United’ Kingdom.
With the rich getting richer and the poorest more malnourished, it’s possible to argue that the ‘elite’ are metaphorically cannibalising the lives and opportunities of the poor. To allow poorer children to be nutritionally – and therefore educationally and vocationally – disadvantaged, while wealthy children are bought great advantages in life, is cruel and negligent. And that’s without going into the long-term health risks that are being imposed by these unjust circumstances.
Upon release of the report, the EAC’s chair, Labour MP Mary Creagh, said: “Many of us are still recovering from Christmas excess but 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.
“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.”
Not only are children and families suffering as a result of this sinister level of inequality, but society itself suffers when our citizens, who could offer so much, are being thwarted from reaching their full potential.