By Luciana BERGER, MP
Shadow Minister for Climate Change
Hunger is a theme that runs deep within Jewish tradition. Take the story of how Ruth and her mother-in-law are saved from starvation by the generosity of the wealthy land owner Boaz as an example. It serves as a good reminder not only of the importance of food, but of how extending charity to all people is a key part of our faith.
Today, there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. It is deplorable that one-in-eight people across the world will go to sleep tonight without having had enough to eat.
Every year, 2.3 million children die from malnutrition – more than the populations of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle combined. And as well as the tragic human consequences, starvation has grave social and economic impacts as well.
Children who grow up without enough food will cost the developing world £78 billion by 2030 and undermine economic growth by as much as three percent. But how do we change this?
Over the past six months, a group of more than 200 of Britain’s leading development charities and faith groups has been offering their answer.
I have been proud to support the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign from the start. In January, I hosted an interfaith event in Parliament organised by World Jewish Relief to mark its launch.
Since then, the campaign has grown into the largest coalition for change since Make Poverty History in 2005. Its fantastic work succeeded in making this week’s G8 Summit in Northern Ireland the most anticipated since Gleneagles and put its key manifesto items on the G8 agenda.
The IF campaign goes to the heart of tackling some of the causes of hunger, including: closing the loopholes allowing big companies to avoid tax in poorer countries; stopping the ‘land grabs’, which force farmers off their land; holding governments to their aid commitments; and increasing transparency about the way both governments and businesses operate in developing nations.
Earlier this month, 45,000 people showed their support for these changes in Hyde Park, including many Jews from across the denominations.
I hope the world’s leaders will have taken a decisive step towards ending these global injustices by the time this piece is printed. But regardless of the summit’s outcome, hunger will remain a fixture on our political landscape well beyond this week. There are two particular reasons for this.
Firstly, because global forces mean this is an issue from which we cannot run. One of the principle causes of food insecurity is climate change. Every year, an estimated 325 million people are seriously affected and hundreds of thousands are killed by factors relating to global warming. The UN has also recently reported that 3 billion people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2050 unless urgent action is taken against the growing threats to our environment.
Secondly, because hunger is not something that only exists in other countries. It’s also happening here, in the world’s seventh richest nation. A cruel combination of lengthy delays in our social security system, unemployment, falling wages and rising prices have meant not being able to put food on the table is a daily reality for an increasing number of people across Britain.
More than half a million people are forced to rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. In my constituency alone, the number of people accessing emergency food parcels each month has jumped by 70 percent in the past year. And food poverty is affecting people in employment as much as those out of work.
Although the issues are challenging, there are grounds for optimism. Over the past six months, young, old, professionals, volunteers and people of all faiths have tirelessly pressed for change over the past six months. And in the Jewish community alone, more than 6,000 people have engaged with the IF campaign, with many of our charities at the forefront of leading this charge.
Because we and tens of thousands of others stood up, we have hopefully moved a little closer in the right direction. That effort must go on.