A Minister for Food Security is urgently needed to deal with the threat posed by COVID-19, Brexit and climate change, according to a cross-party group of MPs.
Millions of people have struggled to access food as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of food bank users doubling during lockdown.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warns that food insecurity is “likely to get worse before it gets better” because of risks including a second wave of coronavirus cases, as well as potential disruption and delays to the food supply system as a result of a “disorderly Brexit”.
The committee analysed the government’s response to the disruption to food supplies caused by COVID-19.
Although committee chair Neil Parish said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs response was “commendable” once the pandemic hit, the report questions why the government appeared unprepared for disruptions – such as supermarket shortages due to increased demand – which other countries had experienced when they went into lockdown before the UK.
Increased buying was not a result of “panic”, according to the committee, but “a reasonable and predictable response to the expectation that more meals would need to be eaten at home”.
Mr Parish said despite the easing of lockdown “problems with food security are far from over”.
He added: “Food banks and other food redistribution organisations have reacted heroically to a shocking spike in demand for food aid, but this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.
“It is therefore essential that the government appoints a new minister for food security who will stop this issue falling between the cracks.
“The government’s actions to lock down the country and close businesses were necessary, but they had huge impacts on the food sector and on food security.”
The report also highlighted issues with the voucher scheme for free school meals. Initially the vouchers could be used at supermarkets like Waitrose and M&S but not at Aldi or Lidl, which the report said was “out of touch with the reality of where families were likely to shop”.
Around 4.9 million adults and 1.7 million children are currently facing food insecurity in the UK, according to the committee, which the UN defines as a lack of physical and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food.
The cross-party group is asking the government to consult on whether a ‘right to food’ should be put in legislation.
A government spokesperson said: “[we have] invested record levels of funding to help people get the food they need.
“Our COVID-19 task force has also brought together expertise across government to tackle the extraordinary circumstances of this pandemic and ensure those most vulnerable in our society are protected.”