Rishi Sunak must allow visit from UN food inspector due to increasing levels of UK poverty, 85 charities write

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More than 80 charities and civil society bodies have called on Rishi Sunak to reverse a decision to block a UK visit by the UN inspector on food poverty until after the election.

Mr Sunak’s government has told the UN special rapporteur on the right to food that he cannot visit the UK until next year. Professor Michael Fakhri, who uses his role to study hunger and food insecurity in countries around the world, asked to make a formal visit to the UK more than 20 months ago.

His request was denied in April by the minister for food, farming and fisheries, Sir Mark Spencer, who said a visit would not be feasible this year, denying the UN inspector the chance to conduct his research during the current parliament.

Food and human rights charities and civil society organisations have now written to Mr Sunak to ask that the decision be reversed.

In a letter signed by 85 groups, including Amnesty International, Just Fair, and the Food Foundation, the charities wrote: “We believe now is an opportune time for a country visit by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food due to the increasing levels of poverty, food bank use, and reports of hunger that have remained persistent for a number of years and became more pronounced during the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis”.

A volunteer at Bonny Downs Community Association food club during a March visit as part of Sainsbury's and Comic Relief's campaign to raise awareness of food poverty in the UK (PA)
A volunteer at Bonny Downs Community Association food club during a March visit as part of Sainsbury's and Comic Relief's campaign to raise awareness of food poverty in the UK (PA)

They say that it is “deeply disappointing that the UK government will not be inviting the special rapporteur this year”, adding: “We call on the UK government to facilitate this visit in the current parliament.”

Recent research by the Food Foundation found that 15 per cent of UK households are living in food insecurity – equivalent to 8 million adults and 3 million children. The levels of food poverty are twice as high as they were in 2021, the charity found.

MPs heard this week that school children are pretending to eat out of empty lunchboxes and eating rubbers because they do not qualify for free school meals. At least 900,000 children living in poverty in England are said to be missing out on free school meals due to the threshold set by the government, the Child Poverty Action Group has said.

When the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty visited the UK in 2018, the resulting report was damning. Australian law professor Philip Alston said rising poverty in the UK was “the direct result of government policies”, adding that increasing destitution in the country was “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes”.

The UK is experiencing ‘record levels of hunger’ and should facilitate visit from UN special rapporteur, Labour MP says (PA)
The UK is experiencing ‘record levels of hunger’ and should facilitate visit from UN special rapporteur, Labour MP says (PA)

The rapporteur accused Theresa May’s government of remaining “determinedly in a state of denial” and said that the Department for Work and Pensions “has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the nineteenth-century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens.”

Ian Byrne, Labour MP and member of the environment, food and rural affairs committee, accused the government of “kicking” Prof Fakhri’s visit into 2025.

He added: “With record levels of hunger across the UK we need this independent overview to look at the causes and offer some solutions such as guaranteeing rights into legislation now.”

Jess McQuail, director of charity Just Fair, who coordinated the letter, said: “The UK government claims to have an open invitation to all UN experts, but in reality, it prefers to procrastinate and delay as a way of denying access and avoiding scrutiny.

“The UK government knows it is failing across the board, and it is time that being free from hunger and having access to good food are recognised as fundamental human rights.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been approached for comment.