A damning human rights reports slams the government’s pursuit of “cruel and harmful” welfare policies as now pushing tens of thousands into food poverty – with little acknowledgement of its own responsibility in doing so.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the situation has deteriorated to the extent that the government is breaching its international duty to keep people from hunger.
Kartik Raj, author of the report, said growing hunger was “a troubling development in the world’s fifth largest economy”.
He said: “Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable – the UK government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”
The report calls on the government to recognise the right to food in domestic law and fully repeal the two-child limit, end delays in accessing payments under Universal Credit (UC), and ensure that benefit payments keep pace with inflation, including the rising cost of food.
There is, the report says, also scope for a national anti-hunger strategy, including a legal requirement to measure food insecurity and to report the results to parliament.
“This rise in hunger has the UK government’s fingerprints all over it,” Raj said.
“Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable.
“Government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry,” he said.
The government has dismissed the report as “unrepresentative”.
At PMQs last week, Tory backbenchers jeered as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke of a government department that had opened a food bank for its staff.
The DWP is also planning a £250,000 promotional campaign for UC, directly referenced in the report as a leading cause of food poverty.
Examining family poverty in Hull, Cambridgeshire and Oxford, the 115-page report concluded that tens of thousands of families do not have enough to eat – with schools in Oxford said to be the latest to have turned to food banks to feed their pupils.
There, volunteers and staff at schools in Oxford confirmed they were now reliant on donations, saying teachers were noticing pupils who were missing meals at home and needed to be fed.
The HRW report echoes earlier United Nations condemnation of the UK’s policies on food poverty, to say ministers had “largely ignored growing evidence of a stark deterioration in the standard of living for the country’s poorest residents, including soaring food bank use, and multiple reports from school officials that many more children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate”.
On Wednesday, the final report on the UK by Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty – who has already highlighted the same issues in interim findings – was also dismissed by the government.
The HRW report identifies many of the families going hungry as single parent households led by women.
Three factors are said to have driven the hunger surge:
- Ideological ‘austerity’
- Universal Credit
- The government largely ignoring and failing to act on growing evidence of a stark deterioration in the standard of living for the country’s poorest residents
The report acknowledges “some steps” government has subsequently taken, but says it has yet to “fully acknowledge” its own responsibility and the direct impact of many of its policies for the hunger crisis or to take adequate steps to address it.
Specifically, the report cites government as doing little to address the significant structural problems with welfare policy – with the hunger crisis being a direct result.
The UK government has a duty under international human rights law to ensure the right to adequate food.
That means making sure people can afford food, and providing food via assistance programs or a safety net if people are unable to properly feed themselves.
By failing to do this, the government is violating the rights of people in the UK who are going hungry.