The coronavirus response has exemplified the resilience of the UK food supply chain. Industry has responded quickly to significant changes in demand to ensure that people have the food they need. In the initial few weeks, when there was an episode of panic buying, our food manufacturers increased output by some 50%.
Although our food security depends on both international trade and domestic production, this crisis has brought home the crucial importance of domestic food production. We are fortunate to have some of the most innovative food manufacturers and producers in the world, and I pay tribute to all they have done in recent months.
Between April and September last year, the Trussell Trust reported a 23% rise in the number of food parcels provided across the UK. As of April this year, the figure has doubled. Given the World Bank’s recent warning of a covid-19 worldwide food price spike, as well as the alarming rise in unemployment we have seen today, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to alleviate the shameful growth in food poverty?
We recognise that, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the financial vulnerability of households has also increased. That is why, last week, the Government announced a new £16 million fund to support food charities, including refuges and homeless hostels. The food will be distributed by our existing partners in FareShare.
Food bank demand is surging, up on average by between 60% and 80% from pre-virus levels. Now, unemployment is soaring, up by nearly 70% last month. It is clear that we need measures that match the scale of the crisis. Last week, the Secretary of State whipped his MPs to reject Labour’s sensible proposals for an emergency coronavirus food plan. With The Times reporting that the Prime Minister is now keen on a food plan of his own, dealing with obesity and coronavirus, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s urgently needed food strategy, which must include a coronavirus focus, will be published before the recession bites?
The food strategy that is being developed by Henry Dimbleby, one of our non-executive directors, will involve an initial report in the autumn setting out the approach and the nature of the challenges, and the final report is expected in the early part of next year.