Emma Lewell-Buck MP: We must measure food insecurity

'People are going hungry, and, with each passing day of this terrible excuse for a Government, more and more are falling into poverty, with little or no chance of escape.

Thursday, 16th November 2017, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 3:34 am

There are no second chances in Britain today. Food poverty is a clear consequence of the Government’s ideological assault on the social safety net and the people who rely on it. One hungry person is a complete disgrace, but thousands of hungry people are a national disaster.”

This is from a speech I made almost three years ago, shamefully since then we have seen a year on year rise in people attending foodbanks.

In 2014 I joined a cross party group of MPs and campaigners and we launched an inquiry into food hunger in the UK, the group travelled the country and heard evidence from hundreds of food banks and their users. We found that the overriding main causes of food insecurity were benefit sanctions and delays. Our evidence and recommendations were put before the Government, who shamefully refused to acknowledge our findings.

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The latest data provided by the Trussell Trust, shows that 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies where given to people in crisis between April 2016 and March 2017, compared with 1,109,309 the previous year, alarmingly of these, 436,000 went to children. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg as the Trussell Trust only collect data from their foodbanks and undoubtedly there are hundreds of independent foodbanks, with at least three here in South Shields, so the figure is likely to be much higher.

Questions in Parliament I asked have shown that in the last financial year 2016-2017 a count of hospital attendances resulting in admissions, reveals that there were 7,939 adults and 344 children who were admitted for malnutrition. This is a figure that should shame any Government but for a Government in one of the richest countries in the world this is unforgivable.

Food insecurity is defined by the UN as the state of being without reliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In other words, when people do not have enough money for sufficient amounts or quality of food, or the worry that this may happen in the future. However, under the Tories food insecurity continues to affect our community and those around us.

Later this month I will be presenting a 10-minute Rule Bill to Parliament, it will ask the Government to start measuring food insecurity across the UK. The Bill will detail how the Government can adopt a system which is cost neutral to the tax-payer by inserting questions regarding hunger and the reasons why people are going without food into existing UK wide surveys the Government already carry out. My call for measurement of hunger has been long echoed and supported by the Food Foundation, Sustain, Oxfam and the cross party Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons. This Government’s experiment with the welfare state and inaction on poverty pay has left an enduring and growing scar on this country, the longer they refuse to measure the problem, the longer they do not have to acknowledge the scale of it ​and the longer they do not have to do anything about it.

Leaving charities and faith groups to fill the gap is not acceptable or sustainable, it is a huge dereliction of duty. The need for this bill is as simple as this: what gets measured gets done.