0856 GMT June 17, 2019
A national index of food insecurity is to be incorporated into an established UK-wide annual survey run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that monitors household incomes and living standards, according to theguardian.com.
Campaigners, who have been calling for the measure for three years, said the move was ‘a massive step forward’ that would provide authoritative evidence of the extent and causes of hunger in the UK. They say food insecurity is strongly linked to poverty caused by austerity and welfare cuts and is driving widening health inequality.
Food insecurity is generally defined as experiencing hunger, the inability to secure food of sufficient quality and quantity to enable good health and participation in society, and cutting down on food because of a lack of money.
The decision, which took campaigners by surprise, was revealed at an informal meeting on Tuesday attended by the DWP, the Office for National Statistics, Public Health England and the Scottish and Welsh governments, as well as a number of food poverty charities.
Ministers have for years resisted calls to bring England into line with the US and Canada by measuring food insecurity. Critics said this was to avoid shedding unwanted light on the impact of welfare policy and the public health consequences of being unable to eat regularly or healthily.
The new measures closely reflect those called for in a private member’s bill being piloted through the Commons by Labour MP, Emma Lewell-Buck. She welcomed the move but said urgent action to address the causes of hunger was now needed.
“It is a real pity that it has taken this long to be enacted, as every single day that has passed has been a day that another person has gone hungry. This positive step forward should not be used as an excuse for government inaction whilst this important data is being gathered,” said Lewell-Buck.
The most recent best estimate of UK food insecurity, published by the Food Foundation in 2016 using UN data, suggested that in 2014 more than eight million people lived in households that struggled to put food on the table, with more than half regularly going a whole day without eating.
The DWP will add 10 questions about food buying and eating habits to its annual Family Resources Survey, which will be sent to 20,000 UK households in April. The data will be reported publicly in March 2021. Experts say the findings will help refine understanding of what drives hunger and food insecurity.
The questions, which are based on US measures of food insecurity, will ask whether and how often households skipped meals, were unable to afford healthy food and went hungry or lost weight because they did not have enough money to buy sufficient food.
The change of direction on measuring food insecurity comes just weeks after Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, conceded that the rollout of universal credit had contributed to an increase in food bank use, reversing previous ministerial claims that the two were not linked.
The DWP said, “We always ensure we use the best possible evidence base for making policy. Building a better understanding of household food needs will help us to ensure we’re targeting support to those who need it most, so we’ve worked closely with stakeholders to develop tools to help us best collect this information.”
Anna Taylor, the executive director of the Food Foundation think tank, said, “We’ve known for too long now that a disturbing number of people in the UK don’t have access to enough nutritious food, but our knowledge has been too patchy to identify real solutions. In the fifth-richest economy in the world, that’s a social justice disaster.”
Niall Cooper, the director of Church Action on Poverty and chair of End Hunger UK, said, “It was over three years ago that End Hunger UK coalition members first called on the government to ‘count the hungry’. So we’re delighted, three years later, that food insecurity levels are finally going to be measured regularly.”
A Food Foundation study last year found almost four million children in the UK lived in households that would struggle to afford to buy enough fruit, vegetables, fish and other healthy foods to meet official nutrition guidelines.