Food Prices and Food Poverty

Part of Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:20 pm, 23rd January 2012

That is true, and I am glad that there are so many passionate teachers—and passionate friends and neighbours, who may suspect that all is not well. I remember people telling me, when I brought forward my Children’s Food Bill, that they would invite their neighbours and friends in for tea on a Saturday and make sure that the children had as much meat and fruit juice as they could get into them, because it became apparent from the way that they were eating that they had not been fed since Friday lunchtime. That point, from my constituency of Wakefield, has certainly stayed with me.

In addition, the Agricultural Wages Board is to be abolished. That is a particularly nasty Government decision that has nothing to do with the deficit, but will take £93 million from the sick pay and holiday pay of low-paid agricultural, horticultural and food processing workers over the next 10 years. That money will leach out of the rural economy, where those workers live—out of local pubs, post offices and shops—depressing the rural economy when spending is already squeezed. It costs more to live in the countryside, and the abolition of the AWB could mean that we have in this country food workers who are unable to buy the food that they produce. We know that those agricultural workers are the most socially excluded people in our country. They are often migrants who speak limited English. Their work is seasonal, short-term and low-skilled. They are not in a trade union, and they move from county to county, picking daffodils in Cornwall in February, and following the crop and fruit cycle across the country.

After the Morecambe bay tragedy in 2004, Labour created the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to regulate labour providers in the food processing and packing, and agricultural, horticultural, forestry and shellfish-gathering sectors. Our aim was to ensure that workers received a minimum wage, decent accommodation, safe transport, contracts and decent working conditions, yet the GLA’s latest annual report reveals that, in the year to March 2011, it uncovered more than 800 workers being exploited in the UK. It prosecuted 12 companies and revoked the licences of 33 gangmasters. In 2010, there were horrific reports of children as young as nine picking onions in a field near Worcester. While the Government, continuing with their red tape challenge, are deciding on the future powers of the GLA, we say: “We will work with you to stamp out modern-day slavery, people trafficking, and serious organised crime, wherever they occur in these sectors.”

In government, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn brought stakeholders together to look at the risks to our food security, and the challenges of feeding a growing global population sustainably. The result was Food 2030, the first Government food strategy since world war two. Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union, has described how that strategy has been left on the shelf, and has been relegated to

“a one-line objective in the business plan” by the current Government. Labour gathered stakeholders together in September last year to look at that food strategy. We believe that we must not lose sight of the direction that it sets out, and we are pleased that the Government have set up their green food project, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. We look forward to it reporting this summer.

In government, along with many hon. Friends who are seated behind me today, I campaigned for improvements to children’s diets through the Children’s Food Bill. That led to nutritionally balanced school dinners, an end to junk-food vending machines in schools, and lessons on cooking and growing food as part of key stage 3.