Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:21 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:21 pm, 31st March 2022

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, and I thank Deidre Brock for introducing this debate. Food security is more important than ever and it is good to see the same old faces in this Chamber debating it, although there should not just be those same old faces—[Interruption.] Those same familiar faces, I should say. This needs to be an issue that all 650 MPs feel they should be speaking about. It is good to see my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), and Government colleagues who I recognise from debates of old, but we need to make sure that food security is not just an issue for people who bang on about farming, like myself and Neil Parish. We need to make sure it is put into plain English and put further up the political league table of issues; if we do not, we will be talking only to ourselves. We need to make sure that our advocacy and the message we send in this debate is felt much more widely than just by us here, who probably all agree on these issues.

Food security matters more than ever because food is becoming more insecure for so many people in Britain and around the world. Food prices are up, food poverty is up, and the Government’s food strategy has been delayed yet again. I am afraid that this ramshackle approach to food security will not do: we must do better. All of us have walked into supermarkets recently and seen the increase in prices.

Jack Monroe has argued successfully and powerfully that the increase in food prices is greatest for some of the food that costs the least, so it has a bigger impact on the budgets of people who have the least. There has been some progress in that area, but not enough. It is getting harder and harder for people to afford food. I know that the Minister is not solely responsible for this—she might be responsible for food, but often what we are talking about is poverty. However, food prices are now going up. The argument that food poverty was not about food, but about poverty, might have held water in the past, but now it is about food prices going up as well as poverty going up. We need to find a much better way of addressing both those issues.

There are a number of issues I want to speak about in the time that remains to me, now that I have finished ranting. We need to recognise that food security is affecting each and every one of our communities. There are now more food banks in this country than branches of McDonald’s. Let us be clear: each of those food banks—those emergency food provisions, the food larders—is testament to the generosity and kindness of that community, but none of them should exist, because we should have a system in which everyone can afford to feed themselves, the energy to cook that meal, and the housing that goes with it. It is shameful that in the 21st century, we are in a position where so many people in our communities are unable to afford the most basic of food.

We know that from tomorrow, with the Government’s national insurance tax rise and with energy prices going up by £700 for huge numbers of people in our communities, more and more people will be pushed into poverty, and more and more children will be going to bed in the evening not having eaten. When I was volunteering with the soup run recently in Plymouth, I spoke to a gentleman who said, “I am in work. I come to the soup run because I spend my wages giving my kids a meal. I put them to bed and, once I know they are asleep, I come to the soup run so I can get some food.” It is utterly shameful that that is happening in our society. There are some brilliant people working in this space, but it is shameful.

Food security is not just a moral issue; it should be about our national security as well. I would like food security to feature in the Government’s national security strategy. I want a decent mention of it in the revised integrated review—which must come, because the current integrated review is so out of date. If we are to have that, let us have an ambition to rear, grow and catch more food in Britain. We produce only about 60% of our domestic produce. I am not arguing that we should grow food that we do not have the ability to grow; I am arguing that, where we do have the ability to grow and catch food, we should grow and catch more of it. It would be good for not only Britain, but our jobs, rural and coastal areas, cutting carbon and higher standards.

I would like the Government to adopt Labour’s policy of “make, buy and sell more in Britain”, which is about not just British steel in warships, but food. If we do that, we will be supporting many of the farmers who are facing real struggles due to higher input prices and the stagnant prices paid by supermarkets, and who are potentially being undercut by suppliers growing cheaper food to lower standards abroad, which are allowed access to the UK because of really poor trade deals signed by the Government.

We need food security to be a national security issue, but we also need to recognise that there is too much wasted food. We must put greater pressure on the supermarkets—so much food is wasted along the supply chain before it gets to the shelf. We all have a responsibility to use the food we buy to make sure it is not going in the bin, but we must also cut out food waste along the way. Like energy companies, supermarkets have for far too long been getting away with prices that are too high. I would like the Minister to use her powers to address that.

There is a good argument for a right to food and for plans for food security, to grow more food in the UK and to make food and energy more affordable. If we do not do that, more families will slip into hunger and poverty.