Getting real about UK hunger

Posted by Ruth Jackson Advocacy and Parliamentary Officer, UK Poverty Programme

27th Feb 2014

Last week was a busy one for debates on food poverty, from the Church weighing in on the debate to the announcement of a parliamentary inquiry into issue. Ruth Jackson writes about why Oxfam thinks food poverty is increasing and what we would like to see the government do. 

It all started when 27 Anglican bishops criticised the government for not doing enough to tackle food poverty and pointed to the rising numbers of people going to food banks, especially those who are working but not earning enough to support themselves and their families.

The increased numbers of food banks are a response to people's needs, rather than more people going to food banks because there's more of them

Then on Thursday, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its long awaited and frequently requested report. The report looked at wide range of food aid provision, including soup kitchens and food banks, and confirmed that the increase in the numbers of foodbanks was demand-led. This means that the increased numbers of food banks are a response to people's needs, rather than more people going to food banks because there's more of them, as the government has previously suggested.

Following hotly on the heels of the report, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty announced it was launching an Inquiry into food poverty.

At Oxfam, we are really pleased to finally see an Inquiry into food poverty being launched. This is something we've been calling for since May 2013, when we launched our Walking the Breadline report. Back then, we recognised that not enough was known about the causes of food poverty and why people turn to food banks. We think it's crucial that this evidence is collected and analysed so that food poverty can be addressed effectively.

The Defra report backs up our understanding of the situation so far. We see people going to food banks not because of one single issue, but a combination of issues:

  • They earn poor wages
  • They are either struggling to find a job or if they have one it can be insecure which means they don't know how much they'll work and earn each week
  • They are dealing with rising costs of living including food, energy and housing
  • They are affected by changes and delays to the benefits system which mean that money isn't always paid in a timely and consistent manner

The government need to address the issue...tackling low paid and insecure work would be a good place to start

Many people are living day to day with no room to allow for any unforeseen costs. So when something unexpected happens, they lack the resources to deal with it and also provide the basics for themselves and their families.

We want to better grasp the cumulative impact of all of these factors to understand what can be done to ensure people have more support and are able to deal with a crisis. This is why we are working with the Church of England, Child Poverty Action Group and the Trussell Trust to research the underlying reasons for the increase in people attending food banks. We hope this research, which we will publish in the Autumn, will provide useful evidence to the Inquiry.

The food poverty debate isn't going to die down any time soon. Whilst politicians argue over who's to blame and if there's even a problem, people continue to go hungry. Rather than getting bogged down in the politics of it, the government need to address the issue (regardless of who created it) so that people can live without worrying where their next meal is coming from. Today, the government's new child poverty strategy acknowledged that more children now live in working households than in workless ones, so tackling low paid and insecure work would be a good place to start.


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Photo credit: Sarah Brodbin/Oxfam

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Blog post written by Ruth Jackson

Advocacy and Parliamentary Officer, UK Poverty Programme

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