When I taught in a primary school there was a Dr Seuss nonsense song that the children loved to sing with great enthusiasm. It was called The Super-Supper March and began ‘Hungry, hungry, I am hungry, I could eat a pickled plum…’. Do you remember it? Perhaps you sang it too. When I saw headlines this week calling for a Minister for Hunger it made me wonder if this was still being sung in primary school classrooms or if teachers now considered it inappropriate with the knowledge they may have of their pupils’ real hunger. One head teacher, of a school I had attended as a child, spoke movingly about children stealing apple cores from rubbish bins as one of her day to day observations of the impact of hunger in her school community.
The headlines have come from a recent report by the Environmental Audit Committee entitled Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK. The report sets out both the scale and causes of hunger within the context of the UK and the country’s progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger. But from this report, it would appear we are moving in the wrong direction ie away from this goal rather than towards it. For example the report suggests that more and more people are having to rely on food banks; the Trussell Trust, a charity that runs the majority of food banks used in the UK, are cited as seeing an increase of 46% in the number of emergency food supplies they had to provide in 2017-18 as compared to 2013–14. Of the recipients of these emergency supplies, 484,026 were children.
The report makes recommendations for ways forward in terms of policy and governmental decisions; one of these is to ensure there is accountability for ‘combatting hunger in the UK’. This is why there have been calls in the media for a ‘Minister for Hunger’. The report accuses the government of focussing on obesity and showing limited understanding of the wider issues around what it calls ‘food insecurity’. It also suggests that hunger is seen as an overseas issue rather than one that is happening on our own doorstep.
As children continue to go hungry at school, the equality gap widens between themselves and their well-fed peers. Individual teachers and schools may attempt to ensure children’s food needs are met whilst on school premises, however as the Trussell Trust argues ‘It takes more than food to end hunger’; change needs to happen on a more macro level, to the structures that keep people locked in a cycle of food insecurity.