Skip to main content

Emergency Food Aid

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 29 January 2015

7. What estimate she 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 address food poverty. (907291)

The provision of food aid ranges from small, local provision to regional and national schemes. Some keep records, some do not, but we do not want to create new regulations or reporting burdens for volunteers and charity groups providing food aid. The best way to address poverty is to help people off benefits and into work, and we have created 1.7 million jobs since 2010. Schemes such as free school meals will also help. Last week, the Secretary of State met retailers to encourage them to do more to redistribute surplus food to local charities.

According to the Trussell Trust, the food bank in the west end of Newcastle is the busiest in the country, feeding thousands every month. I hope that the Minister is not going to pretend that these people are just attracted to free food or that they do not know how to cook, because I have seen the tears in the eyes of my constituents at the shame they feel when forced to go to this food bank by this Government’s cruel and unfair policies. So what is he going to do about it?

We have reduced taxes for 25 million people, and we have taken 3 million of the lowest earners out of tax altogether. In the past year, food prices have fallen by 1.7%, which is the first time that food prices have fallen since 2002.

Instead of harping on about what the Government might or might not be doing—and we are doing much to get people out of food poverty—I urge colleagues to do as I have done and visit their local food bank. I know that many colleagues have already done so. They should also emphasise to their constituents that what food banks require is not fresh food, but pasta, sugar and other goods that can be stored for some time.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I visited the food bank in Camborne in my constituency just before Christmas to support the work that it does. It is better for food banks to have predominantly non-perishable goods to support the great work that they do.

There is no shortage of food in this country, yet more than 1 million people are going hungry and relying on emergency food aid. There is no shortage of compassion from food bank volunteers, but there is a hunger of compassion in a Government who are taking us back to the 1930s in spending and to Victorian times in attitudes to the poor. The Secretary of State sat out the last debate on food banks. Will the Minister apologise for the Government’s staggering complacency in the face of a food crisis in which an advanced nation cannot feed its working poor and its vulnerable, or will he join again the collective chorus of denial in the dying days of this Government?

The Government have got 1.7 million people back into work and taken 3 million of the lowest-paid out of tax altogether. If the Labour party had had its way, it would have frozen energy prices at the top of the market, but we have seen energy prices continue to fall. Food prices have fallen for the first time since 2002 and are continuing to do so.