On Monday 8th December 2014 the All Party Parliamentary Group on food poverty published their hotly anticipated report on the state of food poverty in the UK.
The report was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who on Sunday 7th December described food poverty as ‘stalking’ parts of Britain.
The Food Ethics Council welcomes the publication of the cross-party report – Feeding Britain: a strategy for zero hunger in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We support the report authors’ aspiration of a hunger free Britain, and many of the measures suggested as a means to achieve that aim.
As the report points out, the reasons behind hunger and household food insecurity are many and complex. As such, we welcome this spotlight put on hunger in the UK – a very real problem.
We believe that the state is failing to fulfil its obligations around the human right to food here in the UK – an unacceptable situation that results in many thousands of people suffering from hunger and struggling to be able to afford to eat.
We support the vision of a ‘Zero Hunger Britain’ where “everybody in this country has the resources, abilities and facilities to purchase, prepare and cook fresh, healthy and affordable food, no matter where they live.”
We support calls from the report for a higher National Minimum Wage, including – but not limited to – the thousands working in our food and farming systems, many of whom are vulnerable. We support calls for a fairer and more reliable benefits system. We support encouragement of production and retail of locally grown food. We agree that building resilience is vitally important too, and welcome the desire to improve cooking and budgeting skills.
We think the report identifies many of the root causes behind hunger and food insecurity. However, some of the Inquiry’s recommendations seem to shy away from addressing those root causes.
We do not support the report’s suggested establishment of a new national ‘Feeding Britain’ network. This is a move that risks entrenching and institutionalising short-term emergency food aid provision. Giving out more and more food to people in need is surely not a long-term solution.
It is depressing that the report accepts that “food banks are here to stay – for more than the immediate future”. We believe that ridding ourselves of food banks – and tackling the reasons why people need them – is the only ethical response to food poverty in the UK
Let’s not pretend that giving more of our shockingly high levels of surplus food to even bigger food banks is in any way the answer. Let’s strive to rid our country of food banks. Clearly, tackling unnecessary food waste is an important issue, but food waste and food poverty should not be linked in this way.
We also believe there needs to be a bigger conversation about food prices and valuing food. We need to be prepared for the reality of higher food prices (and food price volatility) in the future – not least because of more extreme weather as a result of climate change.
As we said in the Square Meal report, we’re already paying for the hidden costs of cheap food through the back door, in public health and environmental costs.
Finally, we agree wholeheartedly with the Inquiry that “food can be a gateway to resolve …. other, deeper seated problems” – something we have been saying for a number of years.
As the Bishop of Truro says in his personal remarks in the introduction of the report, “We want to encourage all in our society to look to our values and virtues and to begin a much larger and deeper conversation about how we live together.”
Let’s do that and let’s use the lens of food to put respect for fairness, wellbeing and freedom on the table.