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Politics

The government doesn’t think that the UK needs a hunger minister

The Environmental Audit Committee’s calls have fallen flat as they warn that the UK is not on track to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals

The UK does not need a Hunger Minister, says the government, despite mounting fears over food insecurity in the country.

The Environment Audit Committee led calls for a dedicated minister to tackle food poverty head on in January, warning that hunger and malnutrition levels in the UK were “significant and growing” and among the worst in Europe.

This left the UK behind on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.

MPs also found that the government had failed to respond to these issues and warned that their obesity strategy failed to deal with food insecurity.

Today, the government published their response. It included a rejection of the committee’s final recommendation of a Hunger Minister.

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Instead, they identified a need to explore the scale and drivers of food insecurity – something they intend to do through the addition of focused questions to the DWP’s Family Resources Survey.

They also vowed to improve links between job centres and foodbanks as well as publishing a literature review of usage of the latter.

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP said: “Being the hungry man of Europe brings shame on our country. Many adults do not bring home enough money to feed their families thanks to high living costs, stagnating wages, and Universal Credit and the wider benefit system.

“As a result, many children rely on free school meals to get the quality nutritious food they need. With the long school holidays just around the corner, thousands of kids face a summer of hunger.

“While the government has acknowledged some of the points in our report, it has failed to appoint a Minister for Hunger responsible for cross-departmental action.”

Meanwhile, their Voluntary National Review into progress against the UN’s goals has seen the government acknowledge that 10 per cent of UK households have “low or very low food security,” with a further 10% of households classified as “marginally food secure”.

But Creagh added: “Government has whitewashed the troublingly high levels of food insecurity in the UK in its Voluntary National Review, particularly for children.”

Climate change will have the greatest impact on those living in poverty, according to a UN expert, but also threatens democracy and human rights.

This comes a day after the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston had published his own report into poverty and climate change, with food insecurity a huge part of his findings.

Dr Alston, who is due to present his findings on UK poverty the UN’s Human Rights Council this week, warned that the worsening environmental crisis could leave the poorest people across the world forced to choose between starvation and migration.

He said: “Even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger.”

The Big Issue looked into the state of food poverty in the UK earlier this year, including investigating how Alston’s UK findings can be taken on to sustainably end hunger in the UK.

That will be on the agenda for the new “farm to fork” food review that was announced on Thursday. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has appointed Henry Dimbleby to carry out an investigation into the UK’s whole food system to create a National Food Strategy to be published next year.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “Today’s pledge to develop a ground-breaking new National Food Strategy will send a signal to the world that our food system needs radical reform in order to reign in its devastating impacts on our health and our planet.

“Let’s hope the businesses which put food on our plates see this as an exciting opportunity to be part of the solution.”

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