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Food Insecurity

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs leads on food supply and we are working closely with the Cabinet Office to ensure that food supply is fully incorporated into emergency preparedness. The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain that is well equipped to deal with situations with a potential to cause disruption. Our high degree of food security is built on supply from diverse sources, strong domestic production and imports through stable trade routes. DEFRA has a collaborative relationship with industry, which allows us to effectively respond to disruption, should it occur.

With the Office for National Statistics highlighting a 16.8% increase in food prices in the year to January, the Government have built their food poverty infrastructure on dependency on voluntary donations and retail waste donations. However, due to demand, food banks in York are running out and are eking out their food supplies. For my part, I am holding a city-wide donation day so that those who can give do so and those who are in need receive. We call it York Together, as we support one another. What are the Government doing to ensure that no one goes without?

The hon. Lady is right to praise the initiative with her constituents in York. That is very welcome, and it is an element of what can be done locally. We have talked about aspects of food pricing, and there is no doubt that inflation is really tough at the moment, but I am conscious that we still have a situation in which, generally across Europe, we have one of the lowest proportions of incomes being spent on food. Supermarkets have been very competitive, and we may discuss some of that later. I encourage her to also support of the household support fund, which is intended to go to people who are particularly in need. However, we know that one of the best ways for people to boost their income is not only to get into work if they are not in work already, but to work more hours or get upskilled to get a higher income. The local welfare grant, which was given some time ago by central Government to local councils, is there for them to use as well.

In the Secretary of State’s first answer, she talked about domestic security and domestic growing, but it is being made clear across broadcast media this morning that the UK Government have refused to give support to greenhouse growers across the winter season, which has added to the shortages we are seeing and the restrictions in supermarkets. Why are the Government refusing to help those farmers, and to ensure that we have domestic food security and do not have these shortages across the supermarkets?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. At this time of the year, we normally import about 90% to 95% of our food, because we cannot grow it in our soils, although I appreciate that there are industrial greenhouses that could grow some of these materials. We do know that energy prices have been going up, and the Government have been supporting businesses. It is when the change happens in April that I understand there may be an impact on greenhouses, which is why we will continue to work with the industry. However, we have always been a significant importer, particularly of things like tomatoes, recognising that farmers will choose to use the land in the way that they think is best to have a sustainable farming business in the UK.