MPs have called on departments to adopt targets to end hunger in their single departmental plans as part of action to tackle food insecurity in the UK.
The Environmental Audit Select Committee said the government had failed to recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition and obesity in the UK and called for a series of changes across government.
Today’s report found that food insecurity is a significant issue in the UK, with an estimated 19% of under-15s living with an adult who is moderately or severely food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as “limited access to food... due to lack of money or other resources”, with moderate insecurity defined as compromising quality and variety of food to reducing quantities or skipping meals, with severe insecurity meaning people experience hunger.
The cross-party group of MPs called for the creation of a minister for hunger, who would be accountable for combatting hunger and food insecurity within the UK, as well as the adoption of targets within individual SDPs.
SDPs were first published in 2016 and require departments to set out how they will implement their objectives to deliver services and track performance.
The report highlighted that, for example, the government’s obesity strategy does not mention food insecurity and only the Department for International Development mentions hunger in its single departmental plan.
“To be effective, targets in the SDPs must include UK-wide metrics, for hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition, and set out specific mechanisms for action if performance is poor,” the committee stated. “Individual targets should make explicit links to departments with responsibility for policies which contribute to the delivery of the primary goal, for example, reducing food waste and monitoring the living wage”.
Committee chair Mary Creagh said that “more children are growing up in homes where parents don’t have enough money to put food on the table”.
She added: “The combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and often, the rollout of Universal Credit and the wider benefits system, means that levels of hunger in Britain are some of the highest across Europe. We found that nearly one in five children under 15 are living in a food insecure home – a scandal which cannot be allowed to continue.”
The committee said this needed to be accompanied by wider moves to embed the UN’s sustainable development goals in departmental plans.
The SDGs are 17 agreed targets for development. As well as a target to eliminate poverty (goal 1) and end hunger (goal 2), objectives include providing good health and education, reducing inequality and improving gender equity, and creating sustainable communities and taking action on climate change.
Unlike the UN’s previous Millennium Development Goals, which focused on poorer nations, the SDGs are universal and are intended to apply to “developed and developing countries alike".
The committee noted that the UK championed such a universal approach during negotiations on the SDGs, but this has not yet led to the government adopting them in its own plans.
Although the government has pledged to put the SDGs “at the heart of the single departmental plans”, the committee said that “in their present format, single departmental plans are wholly inadequate as a means of delivering the SDGs in the UK”.
“The omission of the SDG targets relating to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition is just one example of where SDG targets have been overlooked in government planning in the domestic context,” the committee concluded, and the government’s failure to ensure that all SDG targets are covered in the new SDPs has left significant gaps in plans and accountability
The report called on the Cabinet Office to take responsibility for ensuring that no SDG target is left out from the SDPs, and to allocate accountability where required.
“It should facilitate cross-departmental working on targets where more than one department may influence the UK’s progress [and] progress towards the SDGs should be aggregated into a single annual report by government.”