The Government does not fully understand the relationship between food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition
By addressing obesity in isolation, it is missing the opportunity to effect widespread change, says new report by the Environmental Audit Committee.
The food insecurity situation in the UK
Whilst 821 million are estimated to have gone hungry in 2017 globally, the government did not address the vulnerable population in the UK suffering from the same food insecurity. Sustainable Development Goal 2 is zero hunger: the sustained and meaningful eradication of world hunger, implemented by 2030 via a series of interlinking targets and indicators.
Food insecurity is defined as “limited access to food … due to lack of money or other resources” and is significantly increasing within the UK. These levels are amongst the highest in Europe, with 19% of under 15s living with an adult who is moderately or severely food insecure.
There is currently a hyper-focus on tackling obesity overshadowing food access issues for vulnerable populations. The problem of obesity can also stem from food insecurity, with individuals experiencing the need to buy very cheap fast food which is calorie-rich and otherwise deficient in nutrition.
The Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the UK government update this strategy, “to take account of the close relationship between obesity, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition” and form a more productive, complex strategy as opposed to isolating only obesity in public health awareness campaigns.
Appointing a Minister for Hunger would stop UK ‘turning a blind eye’
Committee stated that “users can be vulnerable to a “hokey-cokey” effect of funding being introduced and later removed”. A cross-departmental Minister of Health could have prevented this flawed strategy, via power over multiple ongoing campaigns and funding decisions within relevant departments.
Currently, the UN Sustainable Development Goals are embraced by the UK via Single Departmental Plans which seek to implement the SDGs within individual departments. A cross-departmental liaison is necessary to understand, investigate and implement improvement strategies for this ongoing lack of access to food. A Ministerial position indicates a visible commitment to reforming this situation, which is a reassurance needed by civil society, individuals and the UN to know that the UK government intends to successfully eradicate food insecurity by 2030; despite the political turmoil of an oncoming Brexit.
Further recommendations included mechanisms to assess the impact of food measures, monitoring the living wage and the situation of food waste domestically, and assessing Universal Credit’s potential impact on access to food for the poor and vulnerable.
The Committee even recommended that these measures to combat food insecurity are executed regardless of Brexit:
“In the event that the UK leaves the EU, the Government must deliver on its promises that British food standards will be maintained.”
The Committee further suggested the UK focuses on “the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons”, echoing growing concerns for the appropriate care of an aging population.
The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, responded to the publication of the report:
“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.”
It is estimated that we will need an additional £209 billion per year on average to end world hunger by 2030.