Every day in the UK people are going hungry because they cannot afford to eat. You may know someone in this position, or maybe this is you. However, MPs don’t know how big the scale of this problem is because, surprisingly, they do not collect statistics on how many people can’t afford to eat, or worry about where their next meal is coming from.
Emma Lewell-Buck MP is calling on the government to start measuring food insecurity across the UK. Emma’s private member’s bill was due to be read in Parliament on 2 February but, despite our evidence that 1 in 4 parents are skipping meals because they can’t afford to eat, it was not read due to time constraints. Instead the bill will now be read on the 23rd of November.
There are now over 150 cross-party MPs calling for this measurement, and Emma will be campaigning alongside End Hunger UK to make sure we can know the true scale of hidden hunger. In the meantime we need to keep up the pressure on Government, and continue to raise awareness of household food insecurity across the UK.
One way we know that people are going hungry is because in the past five years, food bank usage in the UK has risen rapidly. This alone raises important questions about how many people face insecure access to food. But knowing how many people go to your local food bank is not the same as knowing how many people can’t afford to eat. In fact, UN data collected in 2014 suggests that as many as 17 times the number of people using Trussell Trust foodbanks are food insecure. And data from Unicef shows that 19% of children under 15 live in a moderate to severely food insecurity household.
(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.)
Measuring food insecurity is easier than you might think. There are two existing survey tools that have been validated and could easily and inexpensively be added to an existing government survey of households. The UN Food Insecurity Experience Survey (FIES) and the USDA Food Insecurity assessment have been used in many countries around the world, and are the gold standard for measuring food insecurity.
On October 26th, the Food Insecurity Measurement bill from Emma Lewell-Buck MP will have its second reading. It calls on the government to implement one of the above measures of household food insecurity routinely in the UK. This will build on the substantial progress made in Scotland, who are already implementing three FIES questions (with a view to implementing all eight in the coming years).
The need for this bill is as simple as this: what gets measured gets fixed. Food insecurity is affecting your community, your neighbours. In a rich country like ours, this is simply unacceptable! But we need quality data as a necessary first step to tackling this problem head on.
For more information on measuring food insecurity, you could read the new report Step up to the Plate by Hannah Lambie-Mumford , or these briefing papers from the Food Foundation, Sustain and academic expert Dr Rachel Loopstra (Kings College London):
- Household Food Insecurity: The Missing Data
- Measuring household food insecurity in the UK and why we must do it