Remember food banks? They were a hot political issue about a year ago, with Labour MPs raising them again and again to wrong foot Tory ministers, but seem to have dropped off the political agenda, even though many of them are still seeing more people coming to them for emergency food help. Well, some politicians haven’t forgotten about them, and today the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty publishes an update on its attempts to tackle hunger in this country.
The group is led by Labour MP Frank Field, who doesn’t blow about with the political winds but tends to stick to his guns. Ministers choose whether or not to agree with him as is convenient, while acknowledging privately that he generally has a point. Today he uses some rather fruity language about the way ministers have responded to last year’s Feeding Britain report, claiming that ‘the government seems to treat the scandal of hunger as little more than a boil of no significance on our society. Nothing could be further from the truth. The body of our country is wreaked by a raging fever called hunger’.
Field’s APPG has managed to put over half of the recommendations it made into action, though looking through that list of recommendations, it’s clear that more often than not, the ones that have not been actioned, or are only partially actioned, have been the ones made to government. So now the MPs want David Cameron to chair a Cobra committee meeting on hunger, in the same way as he would for an acute national emergency, and for the government to introduce a sugar tax levy part of which will go to funding a national programme of school holiday ‘food and fun provision’. The group had asked ministers to consider extending free school meals into the holidays, and recommended that they prioritise poor children from working families when expanding the free school meals programme, but ministers have rejected the first and are yet to confirm the second, according to the APPG. Politically, the debate has been all about whether to keep the universal provision for infant school children that the Lib Dems randomly introduced as an election bribe, rather than as something that could actually help those turning up at school hungry, or missing meals during the holiday.
Meanwhile, the food industry is under greater pressure for the amount it wastes while Brits go hungry, but again supermarkets have yet to make any sort of impressive response to the calls from the APPG. Field is going to need to use a great deal more fruity language before he and his parliamentary colleagues can relax about food banks, even if the issue isn’t as hot a political potato as it used to be.