I thank my noble friend Lady Boycott for securing this debate.
We can survive without many things, but food is not one of them. I want to talk about hunger. After housing costs, 12.9 million people in this country, including 3.7 million children, live in absolute poverty. In a rich country like ours, this is a shocking fact. Many of these people live in what is politely called “food insecurity”—in other words, they cannot afford to buy enough to eat. Remarkably, the Government do not measure this. They have no idea what the real number is, but it is almost certainly in the millions. As a result of Covid-19, that figure has almost certainly increased. As we have heard, the Food Foundation estimates that more than 8 million adults and 2 million children have gone hungry since lockdown.
One cause of food insecurity is the five-week delay in universal credit. This was acknowledged by Amber Rudd in February 2019 when she was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Further, and incredibly, the amount of money given out in benefits takes no account of the cost of buying food. According to government figures, since the lockdown, the number of applicants for universal credit has increased fivefold to 1.8 million—and the numbers are expected to rise still further. So, apart from all its other effects, Covid-19 will increase hunger and poor nutrition in this country. Can the Minister please explain what the Government plan to do about this totally unacceptable state of affairs?