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Food aid providers, academic researchers and nongovernmental welfare advice providers have established clear links between the restructuring of the welfare system and a marked increase in food poverty among low income families who receive such support. The Universal Credit system has been beset with delays in its rollout, which remains ongoing. Furthermore, whereas social security benefits used to be paid in advance, this is no longer the case under Universal Credit.

The wait for payment is a significant source of delay and debt. It also relies on a punitive system that sanctions claimants by withholding funds from those who do not meet conditions, usually related to showing evidence of being in or seeking employment, while making it extremely difficult to appeal such decisions. These and other problems have made it difficult for claimants to navigate the system and receive needed funds.

Joanne, a year-old single mother of four, interviewed at Wisbech Food Bank in Cambridgeshire on May 23, , described the impact of benefit cuts on her ability to ensure her children are fed adequately:. Emma Middleton, a welfare adviser with 15 years of experience in Hull explained to Human Rights Watch what has happened since austerity programs were implemented:. One particularly troubling aspect of the overhaul of welfare and tax policy over the past decade has been the way the government ignored growing warnings and evidence from a range of expert sources that these policies are exacerbating poverty.

It is only recently, after almost a decade of implementing these measures, that it began to acknowledge these problems, including for the first time, in February , admitting a possible link between the rollout of Universal Credit and increased food bank use. However, the government has not established a cumulative impact assessment of its welfare and tax changes as recommended by three UN committees in and and repeatedly by its own domestic national human rights institution since There is no clear policy or department that is responsible for ensuring that no one in the UK suffers from hunger as a result of inadequate or curtailed social security benefits or other government policies, or for monitoring food poverty and developing a national anti-hunger plan.

In , the government also did away with previously existing child poverty targets and the requirement to develop a child poverty strategy, as part of its broader post legislative overhaul of the welfare system. The current government appears to now be taking some steps to address these critiques. In February , the Work and Pensions Secretary acknowledged that problems accessing welfare payments had led to an increase in food bank usage. The statement was a marked departure from the previous position to deny any link between changes to how welfare worked and food poverty.

In March , the government committed to improve its measurement of household food insecurity but did not take on board other suggestions by anti-poverty campaigners contained in draft legislation to make this a statutory requirement with an annual report to Parliament.

Nevertheless, this represents an important step since the government does not systematically gather such data across all parts of the UK at present. Separate pilot schemes have also been funded by the Department for Education and Minister for Children and Families to address children showing up to school hungry in the mornings, and those going hungry during the holidays.

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Nothing Left in the Cupboards

Although a further, larger-scale pilot project is now planned, it remains unclear whether the lessons from these projects will develop into more systematic efforts to combat childhood food poverty. Universal Credit itself can be improved to better respect the rights of people, including those living in poverty, to an adequate standard of living. The government should also ensure everyone has access to adequate food, including in emergency situations through a system of grants. It should introduce technical changes such as paying benefits in advance to avoid debt from the outset.

It should review the excessive use of punitive sanctions, reducing repayment rates on advances, and hardship payments. And it should improve processes by which people in financial crisis can access emergency assistance. The government should accept the right to food as a basic human right, equivalent to others, and ensure everyone in the UK has access to an adequate remedy for violations of the right to food, including legal remedies and compensation.

Parliament should quickly pass proposed legislation to measure household food insecurity, which would require the government to do so and report annually to Parliament, and consider establishing a national mechanism for mapping and monitoring food insecurity, food poverty, and vulnerability to food poverty. The government should also establish clear responsibility and coordination on a national anti-hunger strategy between the various government departments, and should consider reintroducing a definition of poverty, for example as proposed recently by the Social Metrics Commission, and, on that basis, developing a proactive anti-poverty strategy.

The government should also give serious consideration to taking on board recommendations from international bodies to conduct a broader cumulative assessment of the impact of post austerity-based tax and welfare changes on people living on low incomes including the benefit cap, the uprating freeze and the two-child limit. The cost of inaction is high. The government will have to re-evaluate the harsh caps, freezes and limits on benefits that have hurt the poorest residents of the UK.

The problem of escalating food poverty in the UK can be fixed. But it cannot be fixed without concerted effort by the government to take clear responsibility in developing solutions to the problem, to gather better data, and to muster the political will to revise or change the policies that have led to people going hungry and not being able to realize their right to food.

Tired, hungry and shamed: pupil poverty ‘stops learning’

Ensuring that vulnerable people in society do not go without food on the table for their families, and that their basic rights, including their right to food, are protected is a legal duty that the UK government owes its least well-off citizens and residents. This report is based on research conducted in England between December and June Human Rights Watch selected these regions and local authority areas out of an initial, open-ended, interest in investigating links in areas which had high levels of relative deprivation, which had seen rapid increases in levels of immigration, and where populist political positions such as those expressed during the Brexit referendum had enjoyed support.

During a scoping exercise in early , the research centered its attention on the all-too-evident poverty in the areas visited, with a focus on food poverty among families in receipt of welfare benefits and obstacles people face in securing their right to food. The research also examined data and national trends regarding reliance on food aid by consulting available statistics and relevant expert NGOs and academics.

Three sets of interviews were carried out as group discussions with established groups of young women familiar with each other, many of whom experienced food poverty.

Some interviews were conducted by telephone, and these are indicated as such in footnotes. Where interviews in person or telephone were not possible with service providers, NGOs or officials, or where a query could be resolved without a full interview, Human Rights Watch sought responses in writing, and these are also indicated clearly in footnotes.

All interviews were conducted in English. Interviews were semi-structured and covered a range of topics relating to welfare, rights and access to food. All interviewees were told they could decline a question or could end the interview if they chose to do so. Interviewees did not receive compensation or remuneration for participation, but in some cases the researcher provided a modest sandwich meal and drink when the interview took place during mealtimes.

Real names of interviewees are used, except where the interviewee requested that we use a pseudonym or refer to them simply by their professional role. Those who opted to use a pseudonym largely did so owing to the stigma associated with being identified as poor and reliant on food aid. Pseudonyms are indicated clearly as such with quotation marks on the first use in relation to each interview requesting anonymization.

In addition to interviews, Human Rights Watch examined other reports, legislation, policy documents and publicly available data and statistics held and provided by some of the organizations interviewed. We received replies from the Department for Education, HM Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, which we have aimed to include in the report. Human Rights Watch will publish copies of the responses received from government departments on its website. The issues discussed in this report arise within a UK public policy debate about poverty among families with children.


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HBAI is an important basis for understanding UK data around how families are understood to fall within certain income brackets. The approach uses a measure of equivalized household income before and after housing costs as a proxy for living standards. The data are updated annually.

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This statistical information in this report was accurate as of April 4, It includes developments as of May 10, Tens of thousands of families in the United Kingdom UK every year do not have enough food to live on, and are turning to sources of non-state, charitable aid. The right to food is a fundamental human right contained in treaties the UK has long signed up to, and remains unrealized for the increasing numbers of people living on the breadline.

A series of studies carried out between and by domestic anti-poverty organizations, non-governmental food aid providers, and parliamentarians have documented how growing numbers of children and families in the UK have begun to depend on emergency food aid, a phenomenon which was largely unknown in the country prior to The pantry receives redistributed food from a local scheme and makes it available to community members at low cost. This human rights crisis affects families and children, and Human Rights Watch research from the field, focused on three communities in England, bears this out.

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Families with children are facing significant challenges in being able to access their right to food, as an integral and essential part of their right to an adequate standard of living. They are going hungry in a country with ample resources to make sure that does not happen. The UK felt the crunch of the global economic crisis beginning in and lasting into the early s. It was no exception to the global trend. The recession and the decisions by subsequent UK governments to manage growing budget deficits through a program of public spending cuts is critical background for this report.

In particular, the policy choices taken in response to the recession led to cuts to overall welfare spending and a complicated set of changes to many tax and welfare rules, rates, thresholds and limits that had a serious negative impact on poorer people. As these policies were implemented, reliance on food aid spiraled exponentially, with nongovernmental or charitable organizations stepping in to fill the hunger gap arising from this restructuring of the welfare architecture.

A detailed exposition and analysis of policy changes on welfare and tax, essential to fully understanding the rise in food aid, follows in Chapter II. In England, and across the UK more generally, more families are food insecure or have fallen into food poverty. Families on low incomes, in receipt of benefits, are at particular risk of falling into food poverty or becoming food insecure.

Justin Welby

For those who experience food poverty, emergency food aid is a critical resource. Reliance on emergency food aid has increased dramatically in the UK. The Trussell Trust, the main provider of emergency food aid, has seen a fold growth in the last decade see section immediately below for statistics.