Food poverty is getting worse. Where is the government's long-term plan to ensure food security?

By Emma McClelland - 28 May 2022

Anxiety over food shortages and price increases are escalating as the crisis in Ukraine continues, with the head of a UK government advisory body recently telling the Independent that: "This could get quite scary with significant price rises and in terms of food poverty."

Today is World Hunger Day. Founded by The Hunger Project in 2011, it is designed to call attention to the global food crisis. On May 28 each year, they encourage us to come together as global citizens to highlight sustainable solutions to world hunger and declare our own role in making a hunger-free planet our reality. 

With inflation recently reaching 9% in the UK, food poverty is set to cause unprecedented levels of hunger. Recently, a supermarket worker told journalist Sarah Butler of The Guardian that: "Baby milk has never been security tagged but now it is, so people can't steal it. It was something that never would happen before but people are quite desperate."

Tragically, we hear about this kind of desperation all the time at the Work Rights Centre, particularly when it comes to families or single mothers trying to provide for their children. We frequently have to give food vouchers to struggling families - many of them pushed into this position when their Universal Credit payments were suspended suddenly and without explanation, an issue we covered in a previous blog post and that is unacceptable in an environment where the cost of living is soaring to levels unseen for decades! 

In response to this crisis, the government recently announced its plans to send 8 million households in receipt of welfare benefits a one-off "cost of living payment" of £650. In addition, they have turned the £200 repayable loan, which was due for repayment in October, into a grant and announced that the payment will be doubled to £400 for everyone. 

We welcome the £650 payment, which will be a welcome relief for so many families, but unfortunately it does nothing for those whose payments are currently suspended pending months of further investigation. 

We also question the Chancellor’s statement that, "our policy will provide a larger average payment this year of £650 whereas uprating the same benefits by 9% would be worth only on average £530." This may be true, but this is an emergency payment, not a long-term solution. The windfall tax on energy companies has a sunset clause, so it will be wound back down again once prices fall again. So, the 'policy' of which he speaks makes only a temporary change - just like the £20 uplift to Universal Credit during the pandemic. 

The fact remains that the UK's welfare system is one of the least generous in the developed world. The reason people need emergency support is because Universal Credit and other benefits do not provide them with enough to live on. And when it comes to single mothers with pre-settled status, many of whom partially or fully give up work because childcare is too expensive, their ability to claim Universal Credit is actually weakened by their role as caregiver! 

We’re calling on the government to publish its longer term strategy for ensuring food security, and protecting the most vulnerable people in our society from soaring prices. Their sticking plaster approach is not one that will prevent poverty or hunger from hitting the most vulnerable in society. 

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