Skip to main content

Food Poverty

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 11 December 2014

3. What estimate her Department has made of the number of people who used emergency food aid in the last 12 months; and what steps the Government are taking to reduce food poverty. (906571)

Research published in February by Warwick university found no systematic peer-reviewed UK research on why people turn to food aid. Subsequent reports by the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty acknowledge that people turn to food aid for complex reasons. The best way of reducing poverty is to grow our economy and get people back into work. Since 2010, 1.7 million more people are in work. We have also increased the income tax personal allowance to remove more than 3 million of the lowest earners from taxation. Finally, we have helped the most vulnerable to have access to nutritious food by, for instance, providing free school meals, and through projects such as Healthy Start.

Does the Minister agree not only that we should applaud people such as those who work for the Scunthorpe food bank, who do an absolutely first-class job, but that we should be ashamed that, in this year, in this century, people in one of the most prosperous countries in the world are surviving on food banks?

I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the great work that food banks do. I have at least two in my constituency and plan to visit before the Christmas period—I met the leader last week. People turn to food aid for many complex reasons, including mental health problems. We should recognise that food aid is not limited to the UK and is a global phenomenon. We have seen a big increase in the use of food banks in the US and other European countries.

May I commend to my hon. Friend the “Feeding Britain” report, which was funded with support from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s charitable trust? The report makes recommendations to a number of different organisations, including directly to the food industry, such as encouraging the redistribution of fresh surplus food to food assistance providers and voluntary organisations. Will Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers meet the food industry and the supermarkets to go through the report’s recommendations for the food industry, and see what action the food industry and supermarkets can take?

Yes, we will meet retailers and the food industry. The Waste and Resources Action Programme already has a working group to look at how barriers to the redistribution of food can be removed. We have always been clear that the redistribution of food is far better than recycling, and it comes first in the waste hierarchy.

We have not made enough progress in the three years since I introduced my Food Waste Bill, which tried to highlight the fact that up to 40% of the food produced in this country does not get eaten. Rather than just having voluntary discussions, has the Minister considered making the industry start to donate the food that would otherwise be wasted?

We made progress with the first two rounds of the Courtauld commitment. We have reduced domestic household waste by 15%, and waste in the supply chain has been reduced by more than 8%. There is further to go and more to do, which is why the third round of the Courtauld commitment set ambitious targets.

Is the Minister aware that the great benefit of food banks, particularly Isle of Wight and Trussell food banks, is that they are controlled and run by people who have absolutely nothing to do with the Government? Those on the Isle of Wight are brilliantly organised and supported.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The strength of those charities is that they are run by volunteers and are unencumbered by bureaucracy. That is one reason why we have resisted calls to put reporting obligations on them. We want them to focus on doing their good work rather than on filling out bureaucratic forms for the Government.