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Government criticised after malnutrition warning

06 December 2013

by a staff reporter


"Part of the scene": President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in a Thanksgiving service project, handing out food at the Capital Area Food Bank, Washington D.C., on Wednesday of last week 

"Part of the scene": President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in a Thanksgiving service project, handing out food at the Cap...

LEVELS of food poverty in Britain have become a "public-health emergency", senior doctors and academics warned the Government this week.

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 week.

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.

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