A group of MPs wants the government to introduce a Minister for Hunger to respond to a growth in food insecurity in the UK – especially among children.
The Environmental Audit Committee says 19% of children under 15 in the UK live with adults who struggle to buy food – figures among the worst in Europe.
It says ministers have failed to recognise and respond to the problem.
The government says the number of children living in workless households is at a record low.
But MPs say the number of people without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food – or food insecure – is “significant and growing”, with the unemployed, sick or those with children most likely to be affected.
The committee wants to see the appointment of a new minister with “responsibility and accountability for combating hunger and food insecurity within the UK”.
The job would involve exploring the scale, causes and impact of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition and implementing strategies to improve the situation.
The committee’s report also highlights the close relationship between hunger and obesity.
“Insufficient access to food may lead to risk-averse purchasing habits and prioritisation of low-priced, filling foods with long shelf lives – which are often nutrient poor but calorie-rich,” the report says.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said that, since 2010, one million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty – including 300,000 children.
“Household incomes have never been higher and the number of children living in workless households is at a record low, but we know there’s more to do ensure that every family has access to nutritious, healthy food,” she said.
“We already provide support through free school meals and our Healthy Start Vouchers.”
But Labour MP Mary Creagh, who is chairwoman of the committee, said more children were growing up in homes where parents do not have enough money to put food on the table.
“The combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and often, the roll-out of Universal Credit and the wider benefits system, means that levels of hunger in Britain are some of the highest across Europe.
“We found that nearly one in five children under 15 are living in a food insecure home – a scandal which cannot be allowed to continue.
Ms Creagh said urgent action was needed.
“This can only be addressed by setting clear UK-wide targets and by appointing a Minister for Hunger to deliver them.”
Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, which runs more than 420 food banks across the UK, welcomed the idea of a hunger minister.
“It’s time for the government to take concrete steps towards a UK where everyone has enough money for food,” she said.
“Although food bank volunteers are providing vital support to those in crisis, no charity can replace people having enough money for the basics.
“To end hunger, we need to understand the true scale of the challenge, and work across government to ensure everyone is anchored from being swept into poverty.”