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By Imogen Richmond-Bishop

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced this week at an informal meeting that it would start measuring household food insecurity in its annual Family Resources Survey starting in April 2019.

Being food insecure means that a person or household has insufficient or insecure access to food due to resource constraints. In other words, they don’t have enough money to be able to guarantee they can put food on the table.

Due to the lack of official data, we don’t as it stands know how many people are ‘food insecure’ in the UK, although the UN estimates the figure at 8.4 million people. Recent figures from Scotland show that one in ten people there are food insecure, and single parents are the most at risk.

How Does Food Impact Human Rights?

The Food and Resources Survey is an annual survey carried out by the DWP that assesses income, housing tenure, caring needs, disability, and pension participation to establish an overall picture of a person’s likely resources.

The survey draws conclusions from a representative sample of 20,000 households, and has been continuously collecting data since 1994.

Measuring household food insecurity is the first vital step towards being able to hold decision-makers to account for their actions to uphold or thwart our fundamental right to an adequate supply of fresh, healthy and affordable food.

“It is excellent and right that a measure of food insecurity is going into the Family Resources Survey. It is the key survey for understanding financial and material well-being in the UK, and food insecurity is a critical part of understanding these.

Dr Rachel Loopstra, Lecturer in Nutrition, Kings College London.

These figures also allow civil society to track whether the number of households suffering from food insecurity has gone up or gone down year on year, revealing an annual progression or a regression of the realisation of our Right to Food.  

As the data can be disaggregated by gender, region, race, and whether a person has a disability, it also allows civil society and policy makers to see who is the most affected by food insecurity, in order to better find solutions to tackle the root causes of the problem.

By showing who is the most at risk of being affected by household food insecurity, we are able to see the cumulative affects of government policy, and to ascertain whether one group is disproportionately impacted.

Major Names Are Rallying For Change

Charities such as the Sustain Alliance and End Hunger UK, as well as politicians such as Emma Lewell-Buck MP have been calling for an annual national measurement of household food insecurity for a number of years.

We’ve known for years that people will use food banks, whether independent or Trussell Trust, as a last resort and that food insecurity levels are far higher as so many suffer in silence

Sabine Goodwin – Independent Food Aid Network

Such efforts would push for the introduction of effective policy to tackle the rising tide of food poverty, but progress has been hampered by the lack of official data around the issue, and by an often combative use of statistics by the government to counter the claims on the extent and depth of food poverty in the UK.

Nationally, food bank use is up almost four-fold since 2012, and there are now approximately 2,000 food banks in the UK, up from just 29 at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, with many in food poverty falling under the radar.

What’s Next?

Any form of poverty is at its very core a human rights violation, and in the case of the UK, poverty is a political choice. 

Just last week, the DWP secretary Amber Rudd MP admitted that the flagship welfare reform Universal Credit has been pushing people to use emergency food aid, notably due to delays in payment. 

Better data will shine the spotlight on the extent and causes of food poverty, prompting the requirement for living wages, sufficient welfare payments, and decent social services that guarantee that all vulnerable people can eat well.

Kath Dalmeny CEO of the Sustain Alliance.

When the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston was in the UK last year, he insisted poor economic decisions were affecting the worst off in society, and pushing more people into poverty.

Indeed, as Alston said in his preliminary statement: “Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so.”

We all have the Right to Food in international law but unfortunately this right is not yet incorporated into domestic law, meaning that it does not shape policy or legislation, and cannot be legally enforced.  

Many campaigners across the country are working hard to make this right a reality and hope that household food insecurity measurement is a first step from our government towards taking its commitments seriously.

First appeared in Rights Info