Hungry for facts

26/07/2016 - 07:53
The UK Statistics Authority is being challenged to help provide the evidence to help formulate policies to alleviate hunger. Frank Field, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger, explains why.

Too many people in Britain are hungry. How many? We do not know. A very large part of this group of hungry people are children. Again, we have only impressions that suggest that too many children have hunger as their most constant companion.

Why and how many? Again, we do not know. We have impressionistic flashes of the numbers from teachers, social workers and that great army of volunteers that try to get good food that would otherwise be sent to landfill or turned into energy into the mouths of those who are hungry.

But these children have parents, some – maybe most – of whom do not have sufficient income properly to feed their children. Whether the reason for this is a long delay the payment of benefits to which they are entitled, low or irregular wages, trying to square previous debts, spending too much on drink or drugs, or both, we do not know.

What we do know is that too many children have parents who could wake them, get them washed, dressed and fed, and take them to school, but who, for one reason or another, do not.

That these hungry children get themselves to school on time, or near enough, is one of the unspoken successes of human endeavour and the attraction of school staff who provide possibly the only safe abode for these children.

Here, these children are given the only love, care and nurturing they ever receive on a consistent basis. It is here that they receive the best part of their food – at breakfast clubs, school lunchtime, and homework or supper clubs.

If the prime minister wished to meet his ‘Big Society’ in action, he would see it all too evident and flourishing in schools throughout the country, turning this way and that to abate the hunger of too many of their pupils.

It is here that he would realise in a flash how important it is to use a small sum of the proceeds from a levy on sugary drinks to pay for free school meals for poor children in the school holidays.

In an age when our country as a whole has never had such an abundance of resources, we also have:

  • a rising number of children starting their first and final years of primary school underweight
  • a rising number of anaemic infants and pregnant mothers
  • a rising number of people admitted to hospital in an emergency found to be malnourished.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hunger has written to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) asking them to decide what data needs to be collected and by whom if we are to have a much more accurate picture of the extent of hunger in the UK.

The UKSA is picking up this challenge by working with the APPG to discover what the available data might tell us about the well-being, or otherwise, of those who consistently find themselves on the verge of hunger, and how big this group of people might be.

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