I would like to speak to amendments 23 to 25 and record my support for new clause 7. That I am speaking to these amendments should come as no surprise to the House since they are the contents of my Food Insecurity Bill.
Since 2017, I have been pleading with the Government to introduce a simple, cost-neutral measurement of food insecurity into the household surveys that they already conduct. Each time hunger is raised in this place, 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, and it is only by knowing the true scale of UK hunger that we can start to mitigate it.
When I introduced my Bill, the United Nations had estimated that 8 million people in the UK were food insecure—that is 8 million people who could not afford to eat and who did not know where their next meal was coming from. More than 2,000 food banks that we know of have become an embedded part of our welfare state and are the only port of call for those experiencing the harsh and unforgiving welfare state cultivated by this Government.
From 2017 to 2019, Government obfuscation in refusing to implement this simple measure—against a backdrop of rising levels of hospital admissions for malnutrition, a resurgence of Victorian diseases such as rickets, and reports of children attending school hungry—sent a clear message to the millions struggling on this Government’s watch that their pain, their hunger and their poverty were not priorities. The Government’s continued assault on the social safety net and inaction on low-paid insecure work reinforced to them that they simply did not matter. But they do matter.
When the Agriculture Bill came to the House in October 2018, we were presented with a Bill concerned with agricultural markets and our food chain, but it omitted the end of the supply chain—the consumers—and, more importantly, the impact of food insecurity on them. Now, we are seeing some incremental steps, with the proposal of five-yearly reporting on food security but, crucially, not on food insecurity. I do not mind admitting that I am a little confused, but not surprised, by the Government’s incoherent approach. Since April 2019, the Government have carried out a food insecurity measurement, as outlined in my Food Insecurity Bill. Therefore, it should not be a massive leap for them to agree today to enshrine in legislation what we are proposing, because in essence they are already doing it.
Here we are, three years after I introduced my Bill, in the middle of an horrific pandemic that has seen 1.5 million people report that they have gone a whole day without food, half a million children who rely on free school meals receiving no substitute whatever, and those in the shielding category reporting that they have yet to receive a government food parcel. We have heard just recently, about public sector pay freezes—in other words, more austerity will be the reward for those who have given so much for all of us throughout this crisis.
This measurement deserves a place in our legislation. In a country as rich as ours, no one should go to bed hungry or wake up hungry. We need to know where this is happening, how this is happening, and why this is happening, so that we can stop it. I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept our amendments, because that would show the millions who have gone hungry, the millions who have joined them in recent months and those who, sadly, will continue to join them, that this Government are not beyond contrition and, eventually, are ready to take the growing levels of hunger on their watch seriously.