TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) have accused the UK government of leaving tens of thousands of poor families in England without enough to eat in a breach of human rights law.
The report calls for “urgent and concerted action” from the government to curb the rise in hunger in the UK, saying that up until now ministers have “stood aside” and relied on charities to “pick up the pieces” of its “harmful” policies.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said “deep” cuts to the welfare system, exacerbated by the introduction of universal credit other benefit changes, had left many families – many of them single parent households led by women – dependent on food aid from charities in order to be able to eat, Independent reported.
“The UK government has a duty under international human rights law to ensure the right to adequate food. That means making sure people can afford food, and providing food via assistance programs or a safety net if people are unable to properly feed themselves,” the report states.
“By failing to do this, the government is violating the rights of people in the UK who are going hungry.”
Researchers spoke to one young mother from Hull who, unable to find employment that fit with her four-year-old daughter’s school schedule, said she relied on a low-cost community pantry which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets.
“Often, I have nothing left at the end of the week. When you’re a single mum there are very few jobs you can do that let you drop your child to school in the morning, then go to work and be back at 2:30pm to pick them up. I skip meals, so my daughter can eat,” the 23-year-old woman said.
It comes half a year after the United Nations condemned the British government’s “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” treatment of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, saying “drastic” cuts to social support were inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world.
MPs sitting on the Environmental Audit Committee have since accused ministers of presiding over “significant and growing” hunger and being “silent” on food insecurity in its obesity strategy, in a report which found one in five children in the UK live in homes that are severely food insecure.
HRW focused on three areas in England with high deprivation levels, in Hull, Cambridge shire and Oxford, and carried out 126 interviews, including with families affected by food poverty, volunteers, and staff in food banks and pantries. It also reviewed official data and information from the UK government and local authorities.
Kartik Raj, western Europe researcher at HRW, said: “The way the UK government has handled its reduction in welfare spending has left parents unable to feed their children in the fifth-largest economy in the world.
“This rise in hunger has the UK government’s fingerprints all over it. Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable.
“The UK government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”
The report states that a significant factor behind the “surge in hunger” was cuts to welfare spending by successive governments since 2010 in the name of austerity, with support to families and children disproportionately hit.
A HRW analysis of public spending data shows that between 2010 and 2018 public welfare to assist children and families fell by 44 percent, far outstripping cuts in many other areas of government expenditure.
The report also states that universal credit has “exacerbated the hunger crisis” by delaying access to initial payments – often leaving welfare recipients waiting weeks without receiving funds – and imposing sanctions on claimants who fail to meet strict targets to prove that they have or are seeking work.
Ministers have recently taken some steps to “cushion the blow” of some of its policies, including removing the two-child limit on welfare payments for children born before April 2017 and agreeing to begin measuring food insecurity nationwide.
But HRW said the government had “largely ignored and failed to act on” growing evidence of a “stark deterioration in the standard of living for the country’s poorest residents, including skyrocketing food bank use”.
It is now calling on the UK government to recognize the right to food in domestic law, fully repeal the two-child limit, end delays in accessing payments under universal credit and ensure that benefit payments keep pace with inflation, including the rising cost of food.
A government spokesperson said it was “misleading” for the organization to present their findings as representative of England as a whole.
“We’re helping parents to move into work to give families the best opportunity to move out of poverty. And it’s working – employment is at a record high and children growing up in working households are five times less likely to be in relative poverty,” they said.
“We spend £95bn a year on working-age benefits and we’re supporting over one million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals. Meanwhile we’ve confirmed that the benefit freeze will end next year.”