Food Prices and Food Poverty
Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day]
Nicholas Dakin (Scunthorpe, Labour)
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the debate, and I apologise for not being here at the start—I was serving on a Statutory Instrument Committee.
I am afraid that the Government are yet again out of touch, in this case with families feeling the squeeze of higher food prices. At 4%, food inflation in the UK outstrips that of all other EU countries. I am pleased to follow Mr Nuttall, because of his interest in Europe, and to be able to give that context.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) powerfully and graphically spelt out, food poverty is a growing concern. The cost of living crisis is affecting households across the country and more families are relying on food banks. I pay tribute to the food bank in my constituency, organised by Scunthorpe Baptist church, which does a fantastic job in helping people to meet their crisis needs, particularly when there is a dislocation in their benefit payments. As has been said throughout the debate, although we recognise the great benefits that food banks bring to society, it is a great shame and a great condemnation of where we are that people in such a rich country have to rely on them.
I am afraid that the Government are making it harder for families to make ends meet and overseeing a massive growth in handouts from food banks as families struggle with rising costs, higher bills and job insecurity. Rising food poverty is a national scandal. Last year 60,000 people relied on food handouts, including 20,000 children, and one new food bank opened every week. A family with two small children now has to pay over £233 a year more for food due to rising prices.
My hon. Friend Nia Griffith drew attention to the health risks of families eating less fresh fruit and vegetables, and I was pleased to hear Fiona Bruce speak about the contribution that people growing their own food on allotments can make. I am pleased that in my constituency there are initiatives across many primary schools whereby fruit and vegetables are grown to make children and families aware of the benefit of eating them. Indeed, Leys Farm junior school not only has such an initiative, but the produce is served in the school kitchen. There is much good practice out there that we need to build on.
Consumers want transparent food pricing by major retailers so that it is easy to compare goods and to make informed choices, and that is why unit pricing is so important. I am concerned, however, about the need to crack on with introducing the grocery code adjudicator; there is a strong cross-party consensus for putting that role in place.
I have asked several written questions on the matter and, in particular, on the issue of confidentiality in order to protect people who make complaints to the adjudicator, and the responses that I have received have all been in a similar vein: “Protecting the confidentiality of suppliers who raise complaints will be both a power and a duty of the Adjudicator.” But the question is how that is done, and the key issue is how it is managed.
The security surrounding confidentiality is important. I had a meeting today with representatives of a packaging federation, and they made it clear that their members would be concerned about making individual complaints to the adjudicator, and that third-party complaints would need to be part of the structure. Andrew George said that people in the supply chain often operate in a climate of fear, so it is important that the decisions of this House, in pushing forward the role of the grocery adjudicator, ensure that that climate no longer exists and is properly addressed.
The National Farmers Union in my constituency and throughout the country is very much concerned to ensure that there is a third-party complaints process. Alex Godfrey, who represents the NFU in Scunthorpe, has made that very clear to me, echoing the evidence that was given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
I hope that this debate helps to hasten putting in place the grocery code adjudicator in a way that gains the confidence of not only the people in this Chamber, but the people out there and, most importantly, the people who might want to use the adjudicator to ensure fair play in the world.