Skip to main content

Household Food Insecurity

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

We have a well-established living costs and food survey, which has been running for many years and which informs our “Family Food” publication. It includes questions on household spend on food, including that of the lowest 20% of income households. This figure has remained reasonably stable, at around 16%, for many years.

May I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, because I believe it is your birthday? Happy birthday, Mr Speaker—I hope you have a good’un!

I thank the Minister for his response, but he knows as well as I do that that is simply not good enough. An estimated 8.4 million people in Britain live in food-insecure households. There have been repeated calls from me, the all-party group on hunger, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Food Foundation, Sustain and Oxfam for the Government to adopt a household food-insecurity measurement. Why will the Government not just admit that the fact is that their resistance to introducing such a measurement is because once they have admitted the scale of hunger, they will have to do something about it and admit that it is largely caused by their punitive welfare reform policies?

I, too, add the best wishes of Government Members to you on your birthday, Mr Speaker. I understand that it is also the birthday of the House of Commons Chaplain, Rose. I am sure we will all want to add our best wishes to her, too.

I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Lady. This Government have got more people back into work than ever before, and the best way to tackle poverty is to help people off benefits and get them into work. In the LCFS, which has been running for many years, we have an established measure of how much the lowest-income households are spending on food. It is a consistent measure and we are able to benchmark changes year on year. As I said, that has been very stable: it was 16% when the Labour party was in power and it is 16% now.

Food insecurity is a terrible thing, and it is exacerbated by low-income households spending too much on food that is not good for them. During the war, the wartime generation knew how to manage on a very tight budget, and nutrition actually improved for most households, including the very poorest. Could we learn some lessons from the wartime generation about how best to feed our people?

My colleagues in the Department of Health publish lots of very good guidance and run lots of very good campaigns to encourage healthy eating. In addition, we have the school food plan, which aims to improve the nutrition of food in schools so that children learn lifelong good habits. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is possible to eat good, nutritious food, the cost of which has been remarkably stable.

When I visit my local food banks, I hear that the number of people relying on them is going up. Is it not the truth that the Government do not want to collect data on that because they would have to admit the failure of their policies, not least the fact that getting a job is no longer a route out of poverty because of the levels of in-work poverty they have created?

This Government have introduced the concept of a national living wage, which will raise incomes for the lowest paid in our society. I, too, visit my local food bank, and I send my case officers into the food bank to help people who may be having particular problems or crises in their lives. Many complex issues contribute to poverty. I advise all Members to work closely with their local food banks, as my office does.