Britain is the seventh richest nation in the world yet we face a growing epidemic of hidden hunger, particularly in children. The reality of parents unable to feed their children is one of the starkest examples of the squeeze on living standards faced by many British families.
In February, Asda launched its Mumdex survey of 4,000 women shoppers. The survey revealed that one in four mums put something back at the supermarket checkout as they struggle to cope with higher food prices and falling wages. The previous week, Netmums revealed one in five mums regularly miss meals as they prioritise dinner for the children when food is scarce. This situation is likely to get worse when the tax credit cuts to families working part-time come into force in April; 200,000 families risk losing £74 a week under the government's plans.
The Tory-led government are out of touch with families feeling the squeeze from higher food prices. The result is a massive growth in families forced to turn to foodbanks for help. Last year, 60,000 people relied on food handouts from the foodbank charity the Trussell Trust, including 20,000 children, and one new foodbank opened every week. This year, they predict they will feed 130,000 people. Another leading food charity, FareShare, feeds over 35,000 people a day through working with the food industry to redistribute unsold or surplus food. FareShare defines food poverty as 'suffered by people with low or no income with poor access to affordable nutritious food and who lack the knowledge, skills or equipment to ensure food is safe and prepared properly.'
Over recent months, I have visited foodbanks in Harlow, Bradford, Lancashire, Halesowen and Bermondsey who are working to ensure families get the help they need. One mother described shouting at her children when they asked her for a bit of jam to put on their bread at tea-time. "I realised then that I needed to get help, but I sobbed my heart out when I came home from the foodbank," she told me. On every visit, the message is clear: the situation is getting worse, with demand growing exponentially; and food bank users are no longer the homeless, or people with drug and alcohol problems. The biggest demand is now coming from families facing benefits delays, struggling with debt and unemployment.
Today, Kerry McCarthy MP will present a Ten Minute Rule Motion to Parliament on food waste. Reducing food waste is important, both to cut the amount of edible food going to landfill and to help feed people who are hungry. The European Commission estimates that up to 50% of edible food gets wasted across the EU. Food waste in the UK costs families on average £50 a month through uneaten food, past its sell-by date. Kerry's Food Waste Bill puts the spotlight on supermarkets and large manufacturers to reduce waste and show how they can increase the amount of surplus food they redistribute to charities.
FareShare and others rely on the big retailers to provide the food which they give to their network of local distributors. According to WRAP, food manufacturing creates three million tonnes of food waste a year, although we don't know how much of it is fit for human consumption. Labour is working with FareShare to encourage the supermarkets and food manufacturers to make more of this food available to people. Defra figures show lower income households are eating 30 per cent less fresh fruit and vegetables compared to before the recession and food price hike in 2008. We also support the call by Which? for clearer food labelling and more transparent pricing in supermarkets to help families make the best buys for their budget.
We will continue to urge the government to support Labour's plan for jobs and growth but families need a government that is on their side as they struggle with rising living costs and the harsh consequences of the Tories economic policy. When it comes to food poverty, we are most certainly not "all in it together".
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