The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) – a select committee of the House of Commons – is calling for the Government to maintain its momentum in tackling food poverty as the UK emerges from its third national lockdown.

A new report by the EFRA Committee says that while there have been ‘failings’, Ministers have ‘mobilized their departments to support vulnerable people’s access to food during the pandemic, giving a sense of what would be possible if the issue was prioritized during normal times’.

Ensuring the whole of society has access to enough food is, the Ministers say, ‘a fundamental duty’ of those in power, and as the UK progresses on its path towards such ‘normal times’ they are urging the Government to ‘maintain this momentum’ by instating a Minister for Food Security – a position which should be supported by ‘robust cross-Government structures’.

“We agree that enshrining principles in law is not a ‘silver bullet’, however, giving the ‘right to food’ a legislative footing would drive action on food insecurity across Whitehall and Government,” says the report.

The report in brief:

  • The Ministers voice their support for food parcels and vouchers in principle, noting that schools and local authorities should be equipped with ‘multiple options’ for providing free school meals to children as ‘they are best placed to know what works best for their communities’
  • But they add that food parcels provided by some wholesalers are, according to the evidence heard, ‘clearly unacceptable’; any future offering should be ‘consistently up to standard’ and deliver value for money
  • In the event of any future lockdowns, the Government should ensure that children who are normally recipients of free schools meals continue to be fed
  • Despite the challenges of adapting stores to social distancing during the early part of the pandemic, there is ‘no excuse for ongoing barriers’ and it is ‘imperative’ that all food retailers ensure that ‘reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that disabled people are not disproportionately hampered by additional in-store COVID-19 measures’. This, they say, should be law-enforced
  • The food security report under the Agriculture Act should be updated by the end of 2021 to reflect up-to-date figures on the true scale of food insecurity, including a breakdown of data on age groups, to determine the ‘prevalence of food insecurity in households that contain children’. More frequent reports are needed in order to understand the impacts of Brexit, the pandemic and ‘other changes to the UK’s trading relationships’
  • FareShare and other similar food redistribution charities ‘provide nutritious food to those who might not otherwise have access to it’ and help minimize food waste; the recommendation is that these organizations receive ongoing Government funding to enable them to continue redistributing surplus food ‘from the farmgate and across the supply chain to frontline food aid providers’.