Hunger in Britain has reached the level of a “public health emergency” and the Government may be covering up the extent to which austerity and welfare cuts are adding to the problem, leading experts have said.
In a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.
A surge in the number of people requiring emergency food aid, a decrease in the amount of calories consumed by British families, and a doubling of the number of malnutrition cases seen at English hospitals represent “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action,” they write.
Despite mounting evidence for a growing food poverty crisis in the UK, ministers maintain there is “no robust evidence” of a link between sweeping welfare reforms and a rise in the use of food banks. However, publication of research into the phenomenon, commissioned by the Government itself, has been delayed, amid speculation that the findings may prove embarrassing for ministers.
“Because the Government has delayed the publication of research it commissioned into the rise of emergency food aid in the UK, we can only speculate that the cause is related to the rising cost of living and increasingly austere welfare reforms,” the public health experts write.
The authors of the letter, who include Dr David Taylor-Robinson and Professor Margaret Whitehead of Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health, say that malnutrition can have a long-lasting impact on health, particularly among children.
Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, the largest national food bank provider said that one in three of the 350,000 people who required a food bank hand-out this year were children.
He called the BMJ letter a “timely warning” and criticised the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for keeping its report into the problem “under wraps”.