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Healthy diet ‘unaffordable’ for many UK households

Many families in the UK are living in poverty and do not earn enough income for a “decent diet”, according to the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH) in an open letter toprime minister David Cameron in The Lancet.

They have called on the PM to take action by setting up an independent working group to monitor UK nutrition and hunger status.

The health experts stated that there are three main reasons for the increased demand for food banks up and down the country: increasing food poverty; stagnant income and wages among low-paid people; and the rising cost of food.

Professor John Ashton, president of FPH, said: “We have to face an uncomfortable truth: we may be facing a public health emergency in the UK.

“The spectre of Oliver Twist is back. Children are going hungry in the UK: they may not be eating gruel but their parents are having to choosing cheap food that is filling but not nutritious.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Defra have revealed that food costs have risen 12% in real terms during the past six years, making it increasingly hard for lower-income households to manage. Also, during the same period, UK workers have suffered a 7·6% fall in real wages, according to the ONS.

Alison Williams, a Trustee of the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, told PSE: “At the Trussell Trust we see increasing numbers of people turning to our food banks for emergency food and we welcome this intervention from academics and health practitioners, who are saying that UK food poverty is a real and serious issue, which poses risks to public health.

“We think the letter reflects what food banks across the UK are seeing on the ground and provide further evidence of the scale of need. The Trussell Trust recently provided end of year figures which said that over 900,000 people have received three days’ worth of food from food banks in the last 12 months.

“I have also seen with my own eyes people who have been given help skipping meals in order to feed their children. We really welcome this intervention and hope that this will create greater action to combat UK hunger in the 21st century.”

FPH is the professional home for public health specialists, which includes qualified doctors and others have worked in other roles before training in public health. The 170 signatories of the open letter are from across the UK as well as overseas.

They added: “Food poverty has never been acceptable in a modern UK. We urge you to act on the findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty's inquiry that will improve people's health to make clear that this injustice is not acceptable now.”

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