The United Nations estimates that over 8 million people in the United Kingdom suffer food insecurity—over 8 million people who are unable to afford to eat or who worry where their next meal will come from. I am astounded that we have been presented with an Agriculture Bill, which should have food at its heart, that contains nothing to address the growing levels of desperate hunger in the UK on this Government’s watch.
Any Bill concerning agricultural markets and our food chain should also address the end of the food supply chain: consumers and, more importantly, the impact of food insecurity on them. Globally, there have been predictions that we are heading for a serious food shortage as early as 2027. As populations rise, conflicts spread and more extreme weather affects food supplies, it is clear that food insecurity will become an even more important issue.
The all-party parliamentary group on hunger, of which I am a member, has taken a deep look at the growing issue of UK hunger. Over recent years, we have found that austerity, punitive welfare reforms, benefit cuts, and inaction on low pay and insecure work, as well as the widening gulf between incomes and the cost of living, are the main drivers of UK hunger. We also found that 3 million children are at risk of hunger during the school holidays and that 1.3 million malnourished older people were
“withering away in their own homes”.
I have received answers to parliamentary questions showing that rising levels of hospital admissions for adults and children because of malnutrition are costing the NHS £12 billion per year. We now have approximately 2,000 food banks—that we know of—and evidence has shown time and again that food-bank use alone is an indication of last resort. There are legions of hidden hungry who do not go to food banks and do not ask for help, either out of shame or embarrassment, or because they do not know where to go.
Each time that I have raised the issue of hunger in the House, various Secretaries of State and Ministers have denigrated statistics from charities, researchers, food banks and colleagues, claiming that the figures are not robust enough, or that the information is not reliable enough to inform Government policy. Denying the accuracy of the data or simply turning a blind eye allows them to pretend that the problem does not exist, but it does.
This is where my Food Insecurity Bill comes in. All I am asking is for the Government to replace redundant questions in an existing UK-wide representative survey—such as the living costs and food survey that they already conduct—with questions pertaining to hunger, and place the results before the House on an annual basis. The Bill is therefore cost-neutral and will give a true, robust and reliable measurement of UK hunger. It is backed by more than 150 MPs from all parties, dozens of peers, 30 organisations and 77% of the public. The cross-party all-party parliamentary group on hunger and the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have also advocated such a measurement.
Despite all that support and repeated correspondence with the Minister of State, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, the Government remain dogged in their determination not to implement my Bill. I hope that today the Secretary of State will see the merit in adding the asks of my Bill into this Bill. In a country as rich as ours, no one at all should go to bed hungry and wake up hungry. The fact that so many people do is an abject failure of this Government.