Quarter of parents worry about lack of food

02 February 2018

LEE THOMAS

The biggest foodbank in the UK, in Coventry, on 21 December, gets ready for Christmas

The biggest foodbank in the UK, in Coventry, on 21 December, gets ready for Christmas

ONE in every four parents is worried about not having enough to eat, the results of a new poll published this week suggest.

In a survey of 2032 adults carried out this month, 23 per cent of parents of children under the age of 18, and 27 per cent of parents of primary-school-aged children, said that they had either skipped, or seen someone in their household skipping meals.

Of the total, 14 per cent worried about not having enough food to eat (rising to 23 per cent of parents), and 13 per cent of parents had gone a whole day without eating because of a lack of money in the past 12 months. A total of 59 per cent of the respondents said that the cost of their food had increased in the past three months. The figures were higher for people who were out of work: 36 per cent of unemployed people had skipped a meal.

The poll was commissioned by the End Hunger UK coalition, which includes the Trussell Trust, Church Action on Poverty, and Oxfam. It has been released in the week that the Food Insecurity Bill is given its second reading in Parliament. The Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, will move it on Friday. The Bill would require the Government to monitor and report on “household food insecurity”, which is defined as “a person’s state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year”.

On Tuesday, Mrs Lewell-Buck said that “evidence from a range of sources” pointed to a “growing tsunami of hunger” in the UK. The evidence included the Trussell Trust’s handing out more than a million parcels of food last year, and the NHS spending millions on tackling malnutrition. The Bill would provide a “robust measurement” to underpin government policy, she said.

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Mrs Lewell-Buck has been campaigning for the measurement for years. At a debate on the topic in December 2016, the DEFRA minister George Eustice argued that the percentage of income spent on food by the lowest-income families had been “remarkably stable” over the past decade, at 16 per cent.

The Government’s position had been that it was “very difficult and potentially misleading to attempt to develop a single classification of food insecurity”.

This has been challenged by bodies including the Food Foundation, an independent think tank chaired by the former Conservative MP Laura Sandys. The Food Foundation has previously extrapolated from UN figures that eight million people in the UK have insufficient food.

It argues that there are “several well-tested, internationally recommended ways to measure household food insecurity”. In 2015, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended that the Government “collect objective and statistically robust data on the scale of household food insecurity”.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said on Tuesday: “I think the objection from Government is [rooted in the fact] that all the evidence is pointing to low pay, insecure work, and punitive welfare reforms’ driving people to poverty. This Bill would give robust data so they would have to hold their hands up and change policy.”

The Poverty and Social Exclusion survey, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that the proportion of households unable to afford a “minimally acceptable diet” increased between 1999 and 2012, but was lower than during the 1980s. Its last survey, in 2012, suggested that 28 per cent of adults “skimped on their own food last year so that others in their households could eat”, and that eight per cent could not afford to eat properly. Last year, a survey of 3000 adults by the Food Standards Agency suggested that eight per cent were food insecure.

Most (77 per cent) of the YouGov respondents agreed that the Government should monitor how many people in the UK were food insecure.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said that she saw people in her constituency office who were “absolutely desperate and don’t know where to turn”, including people who had not eaten for days. “This is something that the Government needs to act on,” she said. “It’s a total abdication of their duty to not be doing something about this.”

Foodbanks run by churches and civil society were not a sustainable solution, she said, and these groups “should never have to plug a gap left by the welfare state”.

The price of food, as measured in the Consumer Prices Index, was 4.4 per cent higher in November 2017 than it was the year before: the highest rate of food-price inflation in four years.

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