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Britain's hunger problem requires a minister dedicated to issue, lawmakers say

"Instead of seeing hunger as an issue abroad, the government’s New Year resolution should be one of taking urgent action at home."
Image: Queues at The Bread and Butter Thing
People wait to pick up subsidized groceries from The Bread and Butter Thing charity in Oldham, England.Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

LONDON — Britain's government needs a minister to focus on hunger, lawmakers recommended Thursday.

A report by a cross-party committee found that almost one-in-five children under the age of 15 are growing up in a home that has "limited access to food ... due to lack of money or other resources."

The U.K.'s levels of hunger are among the highest in Europe, the 56-page report added.

Britain is the world's fifth-richest country.

The lawmakers — which include members of the ruling Conservatives and opposition parties — said the government had allowed hunger to “fall between the cracks.”

“Instead of seeing hunger as an issue abroad, the government’s New Year resolution should be one of taking urgent action at home to tackle hunger and malnutrition,” said Mary Creagh, an opposition lawmaker who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee.

A combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and the rollout of a new welfare benefits system was causing people to live with hunger, she added.

Shopping bags are ready to be distributed by charity hub The Bread and Butter Thing in Oldham, Great Britain on Dec. 6, 2018.Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

The committee's report also said the issue is leading to both malnutrition and obesity as people are forced to rely on cheap, calorie-rich foods.

The recommendation follows a damning report on the rising levels of poverty in Britain published last year by the United Nations. It found that almost one-in-three children in the U.K. are growing up in poverty.

It also comes as Britain prepares to leave the European Union on March 29, which the Bank of England has said could shrink the economy by as much as 8 percent in about a year.

Food bank use in the U.K. has already increased fourfold since 2012. There are now around 2,000 food banks across the country, compared to just 29 at the height of the financial crisis.

There is also concern among analysts that the country could face food shortages within weeks if Britain leaves the 28-country bloc without a trade deal.

Brexit means the U.K. will also lose billions in E.U. funding, which has greatly benefited the country's most deprived areas.

Free bread for the needy is offered outside If, a community social enterprise company operating in Oldham, England. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

The committee's report recommends that a "minister for hunger" is appointed to analyze the scale, causes and impacts of households living with limited access to food — including malnutrition and obesity.

It also highlights that there is no national government measure for hunger, but think tanks and charities estimate that somewhere in the region of two to three million people are undernourished. The U.K.'s population is about 66 million.