By Daniel J. McLaughlin
If there is one story that will simultaneously break your heart and cause your blood to boil, it is the one told by Siobhan Collingwood, the headteacher of Morecambe Bay Primary School in Lancashire. Appearing on BBC Breakfast last week, Ms Collingwood said that malnourished children are arriving at school so hungry that they are searching bins for food.
“When children are food deprived it alters their behaviour and they do become quite food obsessed, so we have some children who will be stealing fruit cores from the bins,” the headteacher said, “We have children who have nothing in their lunch boxes and children who are just fixated upon food.”
She said that one in 10 of its pupils came from families using food banks, adding: "It's probably higher because they are the ones we know about."
The number of food bank users continues to soar. It increased at a higher rate last year than ever, according to figures from the UK's national food bank provider, the Trussel Trust. Over 1.3 million three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis across the UK in 2018 - a 13 per cent increase from the previous year.
Universal Credit, the Tories' flagship benefits policy, has been identified as a significant factor in the rise in food bank use. Analysis by Trussel Trust found that there is an average increase of 52 per cent in areas that have experienced full Universal Credit rollout for a year or more. On the other hand, food banks that are either not in full Universal Credit areas, or only in full rollout for up to three months, showed an average increase of 13 per cent.
The UK Poverty 2018 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that half a million British workers have been swept into working poverty over the past five years. Child poverty also continues to rise, as it has done since 2011/12. Over four million children are living in poverty in the UK, a rise of more than half a million over five years. Consider an average classroom of 30 children - nine would come from a household in poverty.
Nearly one in five children under 15 lives with an adult who is "moderately or severely food insecure". The Commons' Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has slammed the government for failing to recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition and obesity in the UK. In a damning report, the EAC said: "Food insecurity is significant and growing in the UK, with levels among the worst in Europe, especially for children."
High living costs, stagnating wages and problems associated with Universal Credit are contributing to food insecurity and malnutrition, according to the EAC. "No child deserves to have their opportunities in life and future eaten away by economic and political circumstances they did not create. And other vulnerable people should not have to suffer in this way either," the Huffington Post argues.
The EAC has recommended a minister for hunger, to "ensure cross-departmental understanding and action”. The New Statesman's Anoosh Chakelian, however, argues it would be "a little like marking your own homework". Measuring and monitoring the problem is crucial, but she is suspicious of bespoke ministers for "societal problems created by the same government who would be appointing the role".
There are ministers for women and equalities, mental health, and loneliness; but all of these issues have arguably suffered through the state-sanctioned austerity measures.
Hunger should not exist in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Food banks should be redundant. The government, however, is failing to protect its citizens - with millions of them, including children, living in poverty.