In this excerpt from our new report Why End UK Hunger?, Frank Field and Heidi Allen lay out the political argument for action to end UK hunger.
Just as it affects so many aspects of our everyday lives, food touches almost every aspect of government.
Five years ago, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers asked a seemingly straightforward question: how many of our fellow citizens are hungry, and why?
The complexity of the answers we had gathered, by the conclusion of our inquiry, was demonstrated by the fact that our 77 recommendations were addressed to no fewer than eight government departments.
A key political lesson here is that a comprehensive anti-hunger programme which aims to improve the availability and affordability of decent food could lock in support from a broad coalition of groups.
Since that inquiry, the work being done by Feeding Britain, the charity we set up to implement our main recommendations, has yielded an equally significant lesson.
It is in the interests of practically every reform agenda – be it on life chances, social mobility, health and wellbeing, loneliness, or strengthening families – around which political parties seek to mobilise public support, to incorporate anti-hunger policies. Indeed, there is a whole series of wider societal advantages to be gained from countering hunger.
Breakfast clubs help to improve children’s behaviour, attendance, and attainment at school. School holiday clubs help to bring families closer together, introduce parents to wider support networks, and boost children’s development. Citizens’ supermarkets help to reduce food waste, bind communities together, and stem at least some of the increase in demand for food banks. Innovative ways of delivering nutritious meals to older people help to reduce hospital admissions, tackle isolation, and lower the risk of illness or injury. Higher and more stable family incomes help to reduce anxiety and ward off exploitative doorstep lenders.
An anti-hunger programme, while addressing the plight of our fellow citizens who have been pushed to the brink of destitution, as well as the growing public concern around poverty in our society, would also bring much-needed cheer on so many other fronts.
Frank Field was MP for Birkenhead until the 2019 General Election
In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we really shouldn’t have to make the political case to end household food insecurity. But while supermarkets continue to pile up food to tempt the ever more demanding customer, organisations like FareShare gather up the leftovers at the end of each day to distribute via the hundreds of foodbanks and poverty charities across the UK, to feed the families going hungry because of an inadequate welfare system – clearly we do.
The system is broken and so long as we allow this waste and shortage vicious circle to continue, we will continue to attract the attention of the UN and newspaper headlines.
Frank and I have taken to the road over the last year to shine a light on the poverty that exists all over the UK. It isn’t constrained to rural or city, industrial or coastal, North or South. It exists everywhere. And it will continue to exist everywhere until Government accepts the fundamental design flaws in Universal Credit.
The five-week wait must end, advance payments are not the answer as they plunge people even further into debt and the benefits freeze must end now. That’s the easy stuff. Far easier than breaking the retail model of abundance and waste – so only a Government with a heart so hard that it cannot see the suffering it is causing, could possibly allow it to continue.
Heidi Allen was MP for South Cambridgeshire until the 2019 General Election