My Lords, the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus highlights weaknesses in the food system and will exacerbate issues relating to food poverty and diet-related ill health, particularly for those in the lowest income groups. The Food Foundation described this as a “crisis on a crisis”. In Britain, too many people already struggle to afford sufficient nourishing food. Citizens report skipping meals, going without so that their children can eat, reducing portion sizes and cutting back on the quality of the food that they buy.
Household food insecurity has been widely documented and measured by civil society and government for some time. Many food-insecure households resort to using food banks. Last year, an estimated 3 million food parcels were sent out by the Trussell Trust and independent food banks, but these amount to only a small proportion of those who struggle to afford and access adequate diets. According to the Trussell Trust, the main reasons for food poverty and insecurity are:
“Income not covering the cost of essentials … Benefit Delays … Benefit Changes”.
The evidence of the long-term effects of poor diet on health is well documented.
The worst levels of food poverty and hunger are symptomatic of the wider problem of poverty. Food poverty and insecurity will be addressed only by tackling the root causes of poverty. The current crisis has shone a light on the holes in the social safety net. Many families and individuals have suddenly found themselves with zero income. Children are not receiving free school meals. The five-week wait for universal credit, the two-child limit, the benefit cap and the automatic sanctions all hit the poorest the hardest.
Going forward, there must be a review of social insurance systems and the scandal of in-work poverty. We must ensure that people earn enough and that we have a system of social insurance to give realistic support in times of hardship, so that all our citizens live healthy and sustainable lives.