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Food Aid

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 13 February 2014

3. When he plans to publish his Department’s evidence review on food aid provision and access in the UK. (902561)

The Government know that some of the poorest families are struggling to afford to feed themselves. Although it is not the Government’s role to control the price of food, the impact of food price inflation is of real concern to the Government, which is why we have commissioned a report. All Government-funded social research reports are required to go through an appropriate review and quality assurance process before publication, and the report will be published once this review is complete.

May I ask the Minister to answer the question now? The House wants a date from him. It is now a year since the Government commissioned this report. Does that not suggest that trying to prevent more people from becoming hungry in this country is not a Government priority?

No, I do not agree with that. As I said, if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. That is why these reports, like all Government reports, must go through a quality assurance process. Once that is complete, we will publish a report—we have been clear about that. But it is important also to note that the development of food banks and the growth in their use is not unique to the UK. Canada now has more than 800 food banks and 850,000 people helped; Germany now has 1 million people helped; and France also has about 1 million people using food banks. So rather than being critical of this, we should celebrate the good work that civil society does with some of these projects.

As Ministers will understandably be preoccupied for a while with the floods and flood policy, would it not be sensible for the time being to pass responsibility for that policy to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, our hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), so he can engage with civil society? If that were to happen, the Church would be interested in setting up some regional meetings with bishops, senior clergy and people working at the sharp end in food banks to discuss the qualitative and quantitative research we are doing with organisations such as the Church Urban Fund and to make suggestions for how we move forward from food banks to make communities more resilient.

My right hon. Friend highlights an important point, which is that this issue around food banks touches on many different Government Departments. It is why, at the debate before Christmas, my hon. Friend in the Cabinet Office responded to that report. My right hon. Friend is right that a number of Government Departments have a role in this matter, but, focusing on the bit that is relevant to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it is important to recognise that food price inflation is now falling. It was 1.9% in December, and that was below the average level of inflation, and food is now 4.8% cheaper in the UK than in France, 14% cheaper than in Germany and 18% cheaper than in Ireland. On food prices, the UK is in a better position than most other European countries.

That is extraordinary complacency. In December, a group of doctors and leading academics from the Medical Research Council wrote to the British Medical Journal with concerns over the surge in the numbers of people requiring emergency food aid, the decrease in the calorific intake of families and the doubling of malnutrition cases presenting at English hospitals. The Government are presiding over a national scandal in public health as well as a failure of social economic policy. When will the Minister publish that delayed report on food aid? Publish and be damned!

Let us look at the facts on food price affordability. In 2008, the poorest 20% of households were spending 16.8% of household income on food. In 2012, they were spending 16.6%, so the truth is that the poorest households are spending roughly the same amount of their household income now as they were under the previous Government. The Government have a number of projects to help them. Through the healthy start scheme, the Government are providing a nutritional safety net in a way that encourages healthy eating, which has helped more than half a million pregnant women and children under four years old who are disadvantaged and come from households on very low incomes. We also have a number of other projects under way.