When it comes to tackling rising levels of hunger and food poverty in the UK, there is a policy vacuum at the heart of government - and we need a new national 'Food and Poverty' strategy.
That is the message of Step Up to the Plate, a new report published jointly by ecumenical charity Church Action on Poverty and Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a food policy expert at the University of Sheffield.
Drawing on Dr Lambie-Mumford's PhD research on food poverty and welfare, the report outlines the growing problem of household food insecurity, explains why charities like food banks cannot solve the problem on their own, and highlights the failure of current government policy to respond to the crisis. It calls on the government to establish a Food and Poverty strategy by taking five key steps:
Appoint a minister or department with responsibility for coordinating a policy response across government.
Measure household food insecurity each year.
Free people from the threat of food insecurity.
Listen to people with first-hand experience of hunger.
Lead the way in ending hunger and household food insecurity.
The report features interviews with people who have experienced food insecurity or work in frontline community projects. Neruka White, who runs a soup kitchen in Leeds, said:
"I would ask politicians to look at the long-term cost to people because if children are not being fed properly, the country is not going to stay as a developed country"
Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford said: "This report sets out why it is so important that we have a government-led strategy on food and poverty in the UK. Relying on charities to plug the gaps when people cannot access enough food to feed themselves and their families is unsustainable. A comprehensive policy strategy is urgently required to ensure genuine progress begins to be made towards making secure access to food for all a reality."
Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty, said: "In recent years, local and national charities, faith and community groups have truly stepped up to the plate, in responding to the growth in household food insecurity and hunger across the UK. But civil society cannot be left to shoulder the burden alone. Government too must accept its responsibility and play its part in finding solutions to the current crisis. Only then can we hope to create a society in which everyone has access to good food and no one needs to go to bed hungry."
Church Action on Poverty invites churches, foodbanks and other food poverty related organisations to support the call for action by joining the End Hunger UK campaign at www.endhungeruk.org. End Hunger UK's Menu to End Hunger, published in December, calls for a range of measures to tackle household food insecurity, including the appointment of a dedicated minister to coordinate and mobilise action across government, and an annual government-led measurement of household food insecurity across the UK.
Step Up to the Plate is available to download free at www.church-poverty.org.uk/stepup