The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report released today on the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK echoes findings from civil society that food insecurity is on the rise in the UK.
The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The EAC inquiry was focused on SDG 2: End Hunger.
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a relatively stable food system millions of people in the UK are food insecure. Food insecurity levels in the UK are among the worst – if not the worst– in Europe, especially for children.
The scale of the problem of food insecurity and poverty in the UK can be illustrated by the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme poverty and Human Rights at the end of last year. During his time in the UK, Professor Phillip Alston visited communities across the country that were affected by food insecurity including Newham residents who spoke of the hardships they faced at a testimonial gathering session organised by Just Fair and Community Links. In his interim report he relayed stories of children showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools that are collecting food on an ad hoc basis and sending it home because teachers know that their students will otherwise go hungry. Food bank use is up almost four-fold since 2012, and there are now about 2,000 food banks in the UK, up from just 29 at the height of the financial crisis.
Some of the key factors that have led to the recent “surge” in demand for emergency food aid have been attributed to recent changes to the tax and welfare system in the UK, these include excessive Universal Credit waiting times; delays in receiving payments; debt and loan repayments; lack of automatic split payments under Universal Credit; and welfare benefit sanctions.
We welcome the inclusion in the report of the repeated call by civil society organisations for the Government to protect, respect and fulfil our Right to Food. In the concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) the lack of adequate measures adopted by the UK to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition were raised and the Committee referred the UK to the CESCR general comment No.12 on the Right to Adequate Food adopted in 1999. This general comment states that “the right to adequate food is indivisibly linked to the inherent dignity of the human person and is indispensable for the fulfilment of other human rights enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights.”
As food insecurity for many is caused by issues with the welfare system it is essential that the UK urgently “restore the link between the rates of State benefits and the costs of living and guarantee that all social benefits provide a level of benefit sufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living, including access to health care, adequate housing and food” as recommended by the CESCR.