On Tuesday in the House of Lords a written question from Roger Roberts who is Lord Roberts of Llandudno was very short but also very significant. He asked the Government “what impact has been made by the winter support package; and whether there is an increasing need for support regarding food insecurity.” As it happens my piece yesterday related to a statement in the same location on the behaviour of Senior Political Ministers including Prime Ministers. That statement was made by the Bishop of Rochester and although Roger Roberts is a Liberal Democratic Politician he is also a Minister in the Methodist Church so it is very interesting to learn from two church leaders over these two pieces. Particularly as there is a strong link between the Methodists and Church of England. Anyway back to the theme of food insecurity. The Lord who responded is John Gardiner who is currently the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and BioSecurity. The whole of his response is shown below but there are two elements that I felt required a focus. They are both in bold in the piece below and the second one is the critical one although it was the first one that alerted me to the speech.
It clearly is not sufficient for a series of triennial reports to be made on the theme of food insecurity. A tri-annual one that is three times in each year over the next couple of years would be very helpful but one by the end of 2021 and then not another one until the end of 2024 is clearly not sufficient.
The first piece relates to FareShare which hopefully John Gardiner will be aware is a charitable group of projects that are sadly not yet covering the whole country although it has extended significantly since the mid 1990’s when the Southampton group was the first to get started outside of London. The point is that these agencies which I am very proud of and I helped to start up in Brighton are only part of the re-distribution process. They act as the infrastructure distribution and the local distribution comes from other charities all of which are willing to work with FareShare but the £16m does not go very far and I am aware of local charities that cannot afford to help support the infrastructure, even though the funds needed go much further than any food purchasing. We need a much more indepth approach to assist charities with the infrastructure elements being much better funded than is the case at the moment.
Throughout the pandemic, the Government has sought to protect jobs and incomes. This includes through the furlough scheme, which has now been extended until September 2021, and by spending billions on strengthening welfare support and ensuring the most vulnerable can meet their basic needs. This additional support includes increases to the Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit standard allowances of up to £1,040 this financial year, and uplifts to the Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents.
Tackling poverty in all its forms is a key priority for this Government. We are committed to helping people with the cost of living and providing a safety net for those that need it through our well-established social security systems. Building on the significant support given to the most vulnerable during the initial months of the pandemic, the Government has also delivered a winter support programme to support the economically vulnerable. This package included increasing the value of Healthy Start Vouchers, the national rollout of the Holiday Activities and Food programme, and a £170 million Covid Winter Support Grant to local authorities which started in December to support households with food and other essential costs.
The winter package also included £16 million of funding for Defra to support food charities with the purchasing and distribution of food to the vulnerable over a 16-week period starting from the beginning of December. This funding stream is being managed by the food redistributor FareShare
Defra will also continue to monitor food insecurity. As part of the Agriculture Act the Government has committed to lay a report on food security before Parliament by the last sitting day of 2021 and at least once every three years thereafter.
The report will cover a range of current issues relevant to food security including: global food availability; supply sources for food; the resilience of the supply chain for food; household expenditure on food; food safety; and consumer confidence in food.
Let us hope that Roger Roberts and some other Peers or MPs will raise the concern for the monitoring to take place in Parliament more frequently than is currently being proposed by DEFRA!