Emma was honoured to deliver a keynote speech recently at the September 2019 IKnowFood Conference. At this conference Emma was recognised for her continued efforts to help combat hunger across the UK. These efforts include being a founding member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and the national charity Feeding Britain. In November 2017 Emma introduced a Bill into Parliament that sought to place a duty on the Government to routinely and robustly measure the levels of food insecurity in the UK.
In her keynote Emma stated:
“Child poverty now stands at 4 million and in work poverty, thanks to inaction on low paid, insecure work is at record levels, as the gulf between income and the cost of living rises more and more people are working day in and day out for their poverty and the welfare safety net that they would’ve once turned to no longer exists.
Instead in the absence of Government support faith groups and charities have become an embedded part of the welfare state such that the UK has up to 2000 foodbanks that we know of.
Often when British people think of hunger they think of people in developing countries, rarely do they think of hunger being something affecting our schools, workplaces and communities. This is because hunger in the UK is often hidden.
It is also worth remembering that, according to the United Nations data on food insecurity in the UK, as many as 17 times the number of people using Trussell Trust food banks are food insecure. Food bank use is an indication of last resort, in short there are far more people going hungry than those attending food banks.
There are rising levels of hospital admissions due to malnutrition amongst the very young and the elderly, as well as a resurgence of Victorian diseases such as rickets and scurvy.
What about those who don’t go to their local foodbanks, who don’t visit their local GP, who don’t ask for help either out of embarrassment, pride or simply not knowing where to go for assistance?
Yet each time hunger is raised in Parliament Secretaries of State and Ministers denigrate statistics from charities, researchers, food banks, colleagues, even the United Nations claiming that the figures are not robust enough, or the information is not reliable enough to inform Government policy. Denying the accuracy of the data or simply turning a blind eye has allowed them to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
That is where my private members Bill came in, it is a very simple Bill that asked the Government to replace redundant questions in existing surveys they conduct regarding peoples eating habits with those pertaining to hunger.
Because, what gets measured gets mended, and only by knowing the true scale of the problem can we understand the drivers, and create policy to mitigate it, reliable and robust data would also stop the polarisation of the debate about does hunger exist or not and re focus collective minds on solutions.
From 2017 onwards the main resistance to the Bill was the Government, they continued to ignore the shameful rise of hunger on their watch, they ploughed ahead with austerity and punitive welfare reform, so extreme have been the levels of cruelty, harm and degradation heaped on citizens of the UK by their own Government that for some people locked into the Kafkaesque nightmare, of seeking state support and benefits the only escape, tragically, has been for them to take their own lives.
Hunger is political, it is and has been used as a weapon around the world.
Here in the UK it is being used, as articulated by Professor Philip Alston as the cornerstone of an ideologically driven programme where ‘the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering.’
Where the Department for Work and Pensions ‘is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles’ than with responding to genuine needs.
The Government firmly denounced his findings, only adding weight to his analysis that there was a ‘striking…disconnect between what I heard from the government and what I consistently heard from…people…across the country.’
He then added ‘The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so.’
But despite Government intransigence I and others continued to press for my Bill to be enacted as an initial step to aid eradication of UK Hunger.
Then at the end of February this year, out of the blue I received a call from one of the organisations supporting my Bill to say that the Bill’s key asks where going to be implemented, a roundtable of civil servants and interested parties had decided it was the right and sensible thing to do.
This positive step should not be an excuse for inaction on UK Hunger, our world and country are changing rapidly, alarming predictions from OXFAM state that we are heading for a serious, global food shortage as early as 2050, as we negotiate new trading arrangements with Europe and beyond, as global populations rise, as conflicts spread and as more extreme weather affects food supplies globally and domestically, food security will become an even more important issue.
As Brexit looms food prices are likely to increase, health and other services will come under more strain, we urgently need alongside this measurement a long term strategic, cross departmental strategy from Government and business to mitigate the challenges of the future and the urgency of now.
Because In a country and world as rich as ours no one at all should be going to bed hungry and waking up hungry, the fact they do is a failure of Governments and international politics, a failure that I all of us here in this room are trying to counteract.
So, thank you for what you are doing.
Thank you for asking me to be part of it and let’s keep going.”