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Food Security

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 23 June 2022

As we have recently heard, we have a high degree of food security in the UK. We produce 74% of the food that we can grow here and we have robust supply chains for the rest. Our food strategy sets security as a goal. We are clearly concerned by the rising pressures on household incomes and are monitoring them very closely.

With studies showing that 9.9 million people across the UK cut back on food or missed meals altogether in April, why are the Government cutting money to FareShare, which, in my constituency, has supplied the equivalent of 63,200 meals to charities over the past year?

We have worked very closely with FareShare, an organisation that I have the utmost respect for, during the last couple of years in particular. Tackling poverty in all forms is a real priority for the Government and the Chancellor has now committed £37 billion-worth of support as part of a package to help families with food costs.

An important part of food security is reducing food waste. I recently visited an amazing organisation in my patch, the Horley Food Club, which is doing tremendous work recycling food waste into the hands of the community, using great food that would otherwise have been thrown away. However, the big supermarkets say that some regulations are holding them back, such as use-by labelling. Will the Minister update the House on what we might be able to do about that?

I thank my hon. Friend for her interest in this really important question. I am pleased to confirm that the Food Standards Agency has agreed to ensure that there are no more unnecessary barriers to food redistribution through food banks or other types of community sharing organisations. I would be ever so happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further.

The president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, Martin Kennedy, has said that the UK is on the verge of food security concerns not seen since world war two, due to a “perfect storm” driven by covid, Brexit and the Ukraine war, with the 300% increase in the cost of fertiliser impacting food production costs, on top of the rises in feed and fuel costs and the labour shortages affecting the sector. The SNP called for financial support for food producers months ago when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Will the Minister clarify whether the UK Government will heed that call?

As the hon. Lady knows, agriculture is devolved. In England, we have been able to take steps to support our farmers through rising input costs, such as those for fertiliser. On fertiliser, we have been able to bring forward the support payment to July from December to give farmers the confidence to place orders for fertiliser, which is important. We have also made other changes to the guidance on farming rules for water and urea, for example, which really ought to help the movement from chemical fertilisers to biofertilisers.

Yesterday, inflation hit a new 40-year high at 9.1% amid the cost of living crisis. Things seem to be getting worse with each month that passes. Currently, 7.3 million people are living in food poverty, including 2.6 million children. What assessment have the Government made of the number of people who will be in food poverty by Christmas this year? If that assessment does exist, can it be published and put in the House of Commons Library?

We continue to monitor very closely both the cost of food and the effect that this has on household budgets of those who are struggling. The Chancellor, as I have said, has recently added £15 billion to his total support package for struggling families—£37 billion in total. We know that food, while a very important part of household expenditure, is not the largest part in terms of cost for families. It is around 11% in the average family and 14% in more struggling families. We continue to work very closely with a wide range of organisations to make sure that we know what is happening on the ground and that we can intervene where necessary.

The Government’s own food security report relies on the existence of food banks to keep the UK fed. However, food banks cannot keep up today with the rocketing demand. Far from levelling up, what we see in reality is that our northern regions are the hardest hit with the highest levels of food insecurity. Is it not the truth that the Government’s record of low wages, low growth, record tax rises and out-of-control inflation is keeping people skint and hungry, and that the Government just do not have a plan to address it?

I dispute that. We very much have a plan to continue to help people with the pressures on the cost of living. This is a very difficult and sensitive issue. Often, the higher costs are in the housing or the fuel sphere, but it is important that we continue to work with the Trussell Trust and others, with which we have an excellent working relationship after the pandemic. We have all learned to deal in a much more granular way with food supply chains and how to get food to people who need it. It is important that we dial down the political tone on this and continue to help people who need it.