DAVID CAMERON was rightly lauded for extracting $4.15 billion (£2.8 billion) from the world’s richest nations to tackle child malnutrition at the London hunger summit. The UK, which already has an impressive track record of maintaining aid during austere times, has itself committed an additional £375m of core funding and £280m matched funding over the next seven years, despite the current squeeze on public spending.
The worthiness of the UK’s pledge cannot be questioned. However, the focus on third world hunger risks masking the increasing food poverty closer to home. Charities claim that more than half a million people in the UK now rely on food banks for emergency help in feeding themselves as food price inflation and benefit cuts hit home.
The government’s reaction to the proliferation of food banks, such as those run by the Trussell Trust, has by and large been to welcome them as an example of the “big society” in action while maintaining a “nothing to with us” stance. This is not only disingenuous but is also rapidly becoming an untenable position.
A thriving charitable sector is undoubtedly a good thing for society but, where food is concerned, charities should only ever provide a safety net to catch the most severely disadvantaged and destitute. Fundamentally, it’s the job of any government to ensure its citizens have access to a safe, nutritious diet. Something, somewhere is going horribly awry with the food policy of a developed nation if almost 1% of its population is being failed in this regard.
Malnutrition kills 3m children every year and any efforts to eliminate it are welcome. But as the UK leads the drive to rid the developing world of hunger its politicians would do well not to gloss over the growing food poverty in its own back yard.