Poverty, and particularly child poverty, is increasing. Welfare cuts, austerity measures and low wages have pushed hundreds of thousands, including more than 300,000 children, below the poverty line since 2012, despite Tory claims to the contrary, according to the New Policy Institute (NPI) thinktank, who undertook a study after the government refused to bring forward the publication of official data which would have shown the impact on poverty figures of the major welfare reforms introduced in 2013, and enabled the coalition’s record to be properly scrutinised before the election.
The Fabian Society has accused the Government of lacking a strategy to combat food poverty and said proposed tax-credit cuts could become an even bigger driver of poverty and food insecurity than low wages. A year-long independent food and poverty commission by the Fabian Society found the Government lacks any strategy for addressing hunger in the UK, making a mockery of the prime minster’s party conference pledge to lead “an all-out assault on poverty” earlier this month.
The Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty has brought together experts, as well as those experiencing poverty, to look at the roles of government, civil society and the food industry in increasing the availability and accessibility of sustainable, nutritious food.
The final report of the Fabian Commmission on Food and Poverty is due to be launched later today.
The Commission is chaired by Geoff Tansey, a renowned writer, consultant and Trustee of the Food Ethics Council. The Commission also includes leading representatives from across civil society, trade unions, academia and the food industry.
Food is becoming more and more expensive, and falling real incomes make healthy, nutritious diets less affordable. Yet food plays a wider role in society than nutrition. We use it to celebrate family events, milestones, rites of passage, festivals, to socialise with, and to express ourselves. Food poverty also means that people often experience social exclusion as well as hunger.
Yet only last week, David Cameron insisted at Prime Minister’s Questions: “I do not want anyone in our country to have to rely on food banks.”
Whilst the chair of the commission, Geoff Tansey, acknowledged Cameron’s comments, he said: “But for food – people’s most basic need – he currently has no means of achieving this aim and no plan to deliver a reduction in food banks, let alone tackle the other links between food and poverty.
“The commission has even found that the Government has no count of the number of people who currently lack secure access to nutritious, affordable food.”
A recent NHS statistics release show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years. Cases of other diseases rife in the Victorian era including scurvy (an illness arising through a lack of vitamin C), scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough have also increased since 2010.
Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which runs a nationwide network of foodbanks, said they saw “tens of thousands of people who have been going hungry, missing meals and cutting back on the quality of the food they buy”.
“We meet families from across the UK struggling to put enough food on the table and, at the extreme end, you get people who are malnourished,” he said. “We often see parents who are going without food so that they can feed their children, and these parents often struggle to afford enough nutritious food for their children, too. We don’t think anyone should have to go hungry in the UK, which is why we’re working to engage the public, other charities and politicians across parties to find solutions to the underlying causes of food poverty.”
The Mirror revealed on Monday how food bank volunteers will feed hundreds more hungry children this week: Children from deprived families will go without free school meals during half term, leaving their hard-up parents unable to afford an additional meal every day.
The desperate reliance on food banks was one of the problems investigated by the panel, during its fact-finding tour interviewing food producers, charities and those living on the breadline.
Mr Tansey has warned it was “not enough to ensure people don’t go hungry. Food banks are just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem.
“We need to make sure no-one lives in fear of not being able to feed themselves or their family, and to break the bigger links between food and poverty and their effect on people’s health, the environment and working conditions.”
The Fabian Society wants an end to food banks by 2020. Its report also calls for a tax on sugary drinks to see if the higher price cuts demand for unhealthy food, appointing a minister charged with eliminating household food insecurity and launching “food access plans” so people find it easier to buy “affordable, nutritious food”.
The commission’s report says: “We need to recognise that food banks and charitable food providers are not solutions to household food insecurity, they are symptoms of society’s failure to ensure everybody is sustainably well-fed.”
The report also notes that many people who are too poor to afford food do not use food banks for fear of the stigma of being labelled.
The report comes just two months after the children’s commissioner issued a report warning that the government’s continued austerity programme, especially the welfare reforms, does not conform to the standards of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.