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Food Aid

Volume 568: debated on Thursday 10 October 2013

The provision of food aid ranges from small, local provision to regional and national schemes. There are no official figures for the number of food aid organisations or the number of people using them in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned research to assess publicly available evidence on food aid provision in the UK, and that work will be made available in due course.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. In the past year, several new food banks have been opened in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Stockton South by excellent organisations such as A Way Out and the New Life church. Some are supported directly by the Trussell Trust, which states that the number of people relying on food banks has gone up from 41,000 to 350,000 since this Government came to power. What does the Minister think has caused that explosion in demand?

There are a number of complicated reasons for those changes and nobody is quite sure. That is one of the reasons we commissioned this report. The use of food banks has been going up for some time, and it also increased dramatically under the previous Government. This is a good example of the big society in action, and we are seeing some good organisations stepping up to help people.

I welcome the Minister to his new post, but I hope he will have time to refer to the facts and figures of the matter. Under this Government, the use of food banks has rocketed, and I hope he will read carefully the report from Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty that came out in May and shows that, this year alone, half a million people will access emergency food aid. I think that is a national disgrace. Does the Minister agree?

As I said, the reasons for the increase are complicated. The hon. Lady asks about the facts and figures, so let us look at them. The accepted way to measure household expenditure on food is by looking at the bottom 20%. We know that in 2008, when the previous Government were in power, the lowest 20%—the most disadvantaged households—spent 16.8% of their income on food. That figure is now 16.6%. If we look at the facts, spending on food as a percentage of household income for the most disadvantaged is no more than it was in 2007.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the provision of food banks in this country should be seen in the light of the tenfold increase in food banks under the previous Government, and will he commend the work of the Coalville food bank in my constituency?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we must recognise that if we want to tackle poverty we must help people get back into work and off benefits. That is one reason why the Government’s welfare reforms are so important.

I welcome two west country colleagues to the Front Bench and wish them every success. Does my hon. Friend recognise that food banks have careful rules about how much food they give to people and how often they give it, to ensure that people do not become dependent on food parcels? Surely giving a helping hand in times of need is a very good thing indeed.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Two food banks in my constituency do very good work, and, as I said earlier, that is an example of the big society in action. We should support that and welcome it.