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Taking hunger as seriously as medals

January 23, 2017

goldmedalFood justice expert Geoff Tansey says we need to persuade our Government to take ending hunger and household food insecurity as seriously as Olympic golds.

What do you think is more important? Putting on a good show for the world and winning lots of medals in the London 2012 Olympics or ending hunger and household food insecurity in the UK by 2020? Obviously, they’re very different and I expect you to say the latter.

The point of the question, however, is that the government recognised it was a complex task to deliver an Olympic and Paralympic Games in London, and to deliver a result in which Britain did well. It was an ambitious project with ambitious goals to which the government was committed. It required bringing together a lot of different elements to make it succeed. And the government recognised that to do so they needed someone, a minister with sufficient clout, able to look across all of the different issues that needed to be connected together to ensure success along with significant investment.

Ending hunger and household food insecurity in the UK is a far more complex task. It also needs clear and ambitious goals plus commitment to reach them. It requires, as the evidence to the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which I chaired, shows, action across many different areas. As we noted in our interim report – A Recipe For Inequality: Why our food system is leaving low-income households behind – delivering affordable, accessible, nutritious, sustainable food for everyone will require fundamental change inside our food system and the wider economy.

hungryforchangeWe recommended a whole range of actions in our final report – Hungry For Change – built around a set of principles, many of which are embodied in this End Hunger UK campaign. We need ambitious goals. These include not only an end to hunger but an end to household food insecurity which is far more widespread; that food banks and other forms of charitable food provision to stop people going hungry should become unnecessary by 2020; and that the link between low income and bad diet-related health outcomes should be broken – the equivalent of winning a lot of Olympic golds.

We recognised that this required action on many fronts: health, farming, working conditions and pay, social security, improving local access to food, protecting public health schemes, challenging the way food is marketed, especially to children, and taxation policies. This is why we recommended, amongst other things, that the government appoint a new minister with responsibility for eliminating household food insecurity.

Those affected need a coordinated approach to tackling hunger and household food insecurity across government. It requires a minister with sufficient clout to be able to bring together action by the many different government departments whose activities affect food and poverty. Not just government departments, though, but also devolved governments, local authorities, regulators, business, trade unions and civil society as well as those in poverty whose voices need to be heard in developing the policies to make the changes needed.

Strong government leadership is needed to ensure the Office for National Statistics measures the scale of the problem, and for ensuring the ambitious goals are reached. This is particularly important for two reasons.

First, the ability of people to acquire or consume an adequate quality and sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways is a key marker of a healthy and successful society. For any government committed to reducing inequality, how our food system functions to deliver good food for all is a key indicator of whether or not it is succeeding.

Secondly, as our country adjusts to a new role in the world in leaving the European Union, policies around food and farming are all up for grabs. There will be many changes potentially. These changes need to be in line with creating a food system that is sustainable, healthy, is fair in the way it treats people who grow and deliver food to our tables wherever they are, and that works better for people on low incomes.

As the many different government departments grapple with the challenges involved in Brexit, we need a minister focused on an outcome that is ambitious, that tests the measures and changes being negotiated and enacted against their ability to end hunger and food insecurity for people in the UK, and in a way that supports that goal for people everywhere. Press your MP now to create such a minister committed to deliver on ending hunger and food insecurity in the UK.


Geoff Tansey chaired the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which reported in October 2015, he curates the online, open education resource the Food Systems Academy, and is a member of the Food Ethics Council.

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