LEVELS of food poverty in Britain have become a "public-health
emergency", senior doctors and academics warned the Government this
In a strongly worded letter published in the British Medical
Journal, the public-health expert Dr David Taylor Robinson and
colleagues said that hospital records showed that the number of
malnutrition-related admissions has doubled since 2008-09.
They cite a report from the think tank the Institute for Fiscal
Studies, which showed that families with young children were buying
food containing fewer calories than before, and the food that they
bought was unhealthier. "This has all the signs of a public-health
emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take
preventative action," they warned.
They criticised the Government for delaying publication of a
report into the rise of foodbanks, which MPs have called for this
The authors of the letter said: "Because the Government has
delayed the publication of research it commissioned into the rise
in emergency food aid in the UK, we can only speculate that the
cause is related to the rising cost of living and increasingly
austere welfare reforms. The effects of these policies on
nutritional status in the most vulnerable populations urgently need
to be monitored."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted
on Tuesday that the report was still being reviewed, and was not
being held up. "Government-funded research projects are required to
go through the necessary review and quality assurance process prior
to publication. Once this process is complete, the report will be
published on the Government's website," a spokesman said.
But the Labour MP Frank Field, who questioned the delayed
publication in the House of Commons this week, said: "The reasons
for the surging demand for foodbanks are complex and varied, but
clearly something very disturbing is happening to the poorest
individuals in society. We need to decide whether we want to
sleepwalk into an American welfare system, which accepts foodbanks
as part of the scene, or whether we want a public debate on the
existence and set level of a guaranteed minimum. The Government can
and should kick-start this public debate by publishing all
available evidence on food-aid provision."
The Department for Work and Pensions has repeatedly denied that
there is strong evidence of a link between the Government's radical
welfare reforms and the tripling of numbers of people using
foodbanks this year.
A huge charity food-collection scheme to stock foodbanks for
Christmas began last weekend. The British Red Cross, FareShare, the
Trussell Trust, and the supermarket giant Tesco are working
together to collect donations.
The Trussell Trust said that 60,000 people were likely to
receive emergency food from their foodbanks in the two weeks over
Christmas alone, including 20,000 children.
The British Red Cross said that it was getting involved in food
distribution in the UK for the first time since the Second World
War, because food poverty in the UK was becoming a core aspect of
its work, particularly with the elderly and families.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, urged people to donate to
foodbanks for Christmas. He said this week: "It is well documented
that hunger can affect a child's ability to concentrate, their
behaviour, and attendance rates. What this means is that, right
from the start, children who are already from disadvantaged
backgrounds and growing up in poverty are facing additional
barriers which could prevent them from creating a better future.
Surely we cannot allow a generation of children to be trapped in
poverty and have their prospects and potential curbed through no
fault of their own."
Bristol Cathedral has become a drop-off point for foodbank
donations over the Christmas period for the first time, it
announced. It is collecting food for up to 20 foodbanks that
operate across the city.