London (Parliament Politics Maganize) – The Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee released the Government’s response to its July report on Food Security today. The report covered food availability and affordability at various levels, urging a significant shift in the Government’s approach to food security, from individual households to the national level.
The Committee’s report underscored the UK’s ongoing obesity crisis, predicting that nearly 40% of the adult population could be obese by 2035. In line with this concern, Members of Parliament advocated for a comprehensive impact assessment of implementing a tax on sugar and salt reformulation. They recognized that while such a tax might result in higher consumer prices, it could prompt consumers to opt for more affordable and healthier food alternatives.
Committee Expresses Disappointment with Government’s Response
The Committee expressed disappointment with the Government’s response, as it declined to commit to conducting an impact assessment, stating that it does not believe the current time is suitable for introducing new taxes that may elevate food costs.
The report highlighted that individuals with lower incomes are more prone to obesity, attributed to the fact that high-fat, sugar, and salt content foods are often more affordable per calorie compared to healthier alternatives. The report urged the Government Food Strategy to outline measures aimed at breaking the cycle of unhealthy eating.
In response, the Government stated that the Department of Health and Social Care has an ambitious program to support people in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. This includes new regulations on food labeling and constraints on the placement of less healthy products in stores.
Furthermore, the Government emphasized that promoting healthy lifestyles is not solely the responsibility of the government; it also involves empowering individuals to manage their health and adopt healthy behaviours throughout their lives.
The report expressed regret over the Government’s decision to postpone the ban on volume price promotions for unhealthy food, extending it for a third time until October 2025, originally slated for April 2022.
Reasons for This Delay Remain Unclear
The report questioned the rationale behind this delay, casting doubt on whether it would result in cost savings for consumers and asserting that it would undoubtedly complicate efforts to curb unhealthy eating and obesity. In response, the Government stated that the delay was implemented because it anticipates that the ban could further contribute to an increase in the cost of living.
While acknowledging that volume price promotions contribute to the excessive purchase of less healthy products, the Government, in its response, admitted that delaying the implementation of the restrictions might not necessarily assist consumers during the current cost-of-living crisis. The Committee expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of this decision. Additionally, the Government accepted that the delay would push back the commencement of the anticipated health benefits.
As part of the food security aspect, the report urged the government to assess whether low-income households receive sufficient financial assistance from both central and local government as well as charities. The goal is to ensure household food security without relying on external support like food banks. In response, the government pointed to the increase in the National Living Wage in April 2023, its support through the welfare system, and the Healthy Start scheme.
Issue of Free School Meals
The Committee’s report also highlighted the issue of free school meals (FSMs), recommending a thorough examination of existing literature on the costs and benefits of expanding FSMs. This expansion could either include all children in households claiming Universal Credit or encompass all school children. However, the government opposes this suggestion, arguing that while it has broadened FSM eligibility previously, extending it to all Universal Credit claiming families would incur a substantial financial burden, potentially making around half of pupils eligible for a free meal.
Addressing the issue of domestic food production, the EFRA Committee report highlighted labor shortages in the food and farming sector, emphasizing the significant adverse effects on the food supply chain. The Committee urged the Government to respond promptly in line with the recommendations of the Shropshire review on this matter.
The Government has indicated that its response to the Shropshire Review will be released by the end of the year, and the EFRA Committee eagerly anticipates reviewing it. In its Food Security Report, the Committee determined that there is a lack of coherence in the approach to food policy across the Government.