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Covid-19: Food Insecurity

Volume 678: debated on Monday 29 June 2020

If she will hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on trends in the level of food insecurity among the poorest communities since the start of the covid-19 outbreak. (903887)

I regularly engage with my counterpart in DEFRA, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), on this issue, and participate in the ministerial Food and Supplies to the Vulnerable Task Force. In addition to welfare changes worth more than £6.5 billion, Departments have worked together throughout this period to ensure support for the most vulnerable. Funding of up to £16 million, including the £3.5 million food charities grant fund, is available so that charities can continue to provide food for those in need.

The Food Foundation has found that 5 million adults and 2 million children suffer from food insecurity, which the United Nations defines as insufficient nutritious food each day to avoid hunger. The 2019 national food strategy was shelved because of coronavirus. What plans has the Minister to introduce more money for those most in need so that we do not have growing numbers of people relying on food banks, and to prevent millions more from being plunged into hunger in the event of a second wave of coronavirus and a bad or no deal Brexit?

Over and above the £6.5 billion we have pumped into our welfare system, there is the more than £16 million for food redistribution charities, the £3.5 million for the food charities fund, which offers grants of up to £100,000 to support those charities, the £63 million local welfare assistance fund through local authorities that the Prime Minister announced two weeks ago and, of course, the free school meals voucher scheme. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a good point. We want to better understand food insecurity in this country. That is why we commissioned extra questions for the family resources survey. I look forward to looking at the results of that in great detail.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on her promotion to the shadow Cabinet.

The Government say that the aim of the benefit cap is to make people work more hours or move to cheaper accommodation. Neither of those options has been possible during the covid crisis, so what possible justification have the Government for persisting with that policy, which prevents families from receiving what the Department for Work and Pensions itself believes to be necessary?

The benefit cap does play an important part, but the hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the exemptions to it. New and existing claimants can benefit from a nine-month grace period when their benefit will not be capped if they have a sustained work history. Since 2013, nearly 220,000 households which were subject to the benefit cap are now no longer capped.