Committee chair Lord Krebs said: “Problems of diet and ill-health have been staring us in the face for decades, but successive Governments have done precious little about it. While this affects everyone, people in poverty either can’t afford enough to eat or have unhealthy diets.
“Many of Britain’s poorest families have little or no choice. They either go without food or buy unhealthy food because that’s what they can afford and get hold of.
“The Government knows about the problem. It’s time to stop the dither and delay, endless talking and consultation, and get on with it.”
The peers want ministers to analyse food insecurity in the UK, measuring the number of people experiencing it and why.
Soaring poverty before Covid-19 hit was causing an ever-increasing number of families to turn to foodbanks to eat. The crisis is only pushing more people into poverty, with foodbank use hitting a record high in the first month of lockdown – the Trussell Trust reported a nearly 90 per cent jump in demand for emergency food parcels while services across the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) stretched resources to meet the massive 175 per cent increase in the number of people who turned to them for help.
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “This landmark report clearly explains the raft of actions needed to tackle our nation’s dietary inequalities which have been highlighted so starkly by the Covid pandemic.
“This report shows that millions of families can’t eat well unless they have sufficient income and an environment which makes the healthy choice the easiest. People can no longer wait for lengthy government consultations which languish in Whitehall.”
She added: “Every day that passes where the odds are stacked against families securing a healthy diet is a missed opportunity to secure a healthy future for our children.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the Covid-19 crisis alone had pushed 200,000 children into poverty and that 4.5 million kids are expected to be experiencing it by Christmas.
She added: “This report should serve as an urgent wake-up call to the Government.
“Families should be able to access not only enough food, but also the food that they need to stay healthy.
“[The] Government must act now to implement a nationwide strategic plan to increase household incomes and release families from the shame and indignity of having to rely on foodbanks and food voucher schemes.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We currently spend a record £95 billion a year on our welfare system, with a further injection of £6.5 billion in response to the coronavirus outbreak. We are also giving an additional £63 million for local authorities to assist those most in need of food and essential supplies.
“The upcoming National Food Strategy will look at the entire food system, from field to fork, to ensure it delivers safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn.”