Food Prices and Food Poverty

Part of Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales) 5:43 pm, 23rd January 2012

This is about fairness. It is about paying a fair price to farmers for what they produce, having a fair price for consumers, and stopping sharp practices. It is about protecting the good businesses—the good guys if you like—and creating a level playing field, which is extremely important.

Let me address what happens to people when they go into supermarkets, particularly when they buy fruit and vegetables. We should not forget that there has been a dramatic drop of 30% in fruit and vegetable purchasing by the poorest families, so that the poorest children now get only 2.7 of the five portions of fruit and veg they should have each day. Is it small wonder that when people go into supermarkets they are quite worried about what will end up on their bill at the till, given that they are absolutely dazed by the displays of fruit and veg and the ways of pricing them? Sometimes they are priced by the item, sometimes by the packet—in fours, eights or tens—and sometimes by weight. For example, there are many varieties of tomato, from cherry tomatoes to beef tomatoes, and there is a range of different pricing mechanisms, which is extremely confusing. There should be a very simple formula that allows us all to compare prices easily, because it is very difficult with loose items such as fruit and veg, which can be packed in so many different ways, to work out exactly what one is being charged. Last September there was a bumper crop because of that fabulous spring we had last April, but did we see prices drop? No. Could we have told if they had dropped? No, because unlike at the petrol pump where we can all see the sign displayed very clearly and can tell when prices go up, one cannot see when prices for fruit and veg go up—it is easy to disguise and to pull a fast one on the consumer. Those issues need to be addressed.

As my hon. Friend Julie Hilling has explained, the number of people needing help from food banks is increasing and it is set to increase further. Why? Because some of this Government’s taxation policies are hitting the poorest hardest and squeezing their income. For example, some of the changes being introduced mean that those on low wages who are trying to do the right thing and go out to work are going to find that their tax credits will be cut. They would like to top up with more work hours, but those hours simply are not available. Sometimes that is because supermarkets prefer to have people on low hours; it gives them more flexibility for the Saturday and Sunday shifts that they want worked.

What about the cuts in housing benefit? They are going to leave many families who currently receive the amount they need to pay their rent having to use what should be food money to pay the rent. That is why we will see dramatic drops in the amount that people can pay for their food. There will also be more and more families relying on food banks. What about the cuts in winter fuel allowance? They will leave some of our pensioners with less money to spend on food.