South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck seeks support in fight against food poverty

South Shields' MP has admitted her campaign to transform the way food poverty is measured hangs in the balance - just days ahead of it being debated a second time in parliament.

Saturday, 27th January 2018, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 27th January 2018, 11:16 am
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck visits the Salvation Army's Wawn Street Food Bank, with South Tyneside Churches Development Worker Jo Benham-Brown, and Major Stephen Slade.

Emma Lewell-Buck said she had secured the cross-bench support of almost 70 MPs – including Conservatives – to her Food Insecurity Bill.

If passed on Friday, it would be a significant step towards its introduction into law and the overhauling of the way food poverty is gauged.

She believes change is vital so that a truer picture of the extent of the problem can be identified – and suitable government policies adapted.

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This would include altering questions currently posed to people about their eating habits in surveys by the Office of National Statistics.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said they would be made to better reflect modern society.

But she admitted she was no more than 50 per cent confident the Bill would gain the estimated 100 votes likely to secure its successful passage.

To push for more support, she will meet George Eustice, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on Tuesday.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I’m half and half about the bill’s chances of being passed, but it really should be.

“Anybody who is involved in their community can see that people are using food banks, that teachers are reporting children coming into school hungry, and that there are high levels of in-work poverty.

“The government is asking the wrong questions for the times that we live in.

“They are asking people silly things like how much fruit and veg from their own gardens they are eating - it is not relevant.

“There is a growing tsunami of people who are going hungry – it’s disgusting, no one should be going hungry in a country which is one of the richest in the world.”

She added: “Nearly 70 MPs are supporting this - they are Lib Dems, SMP, Labour, Greens and even Tories.

“I’m meeting with the minister who is responsible on Tuesday, and I’m hoping he will give his support.

“If the government doesn’t support this bill then it doesn’t care about the people of this country.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck has championed change since 2014 and says she will continue to push for it should the Bill fail.

She has also won the support of charities including The Food Foundation, Sustain, and Oxfam.

Friday’s reading follows a 10-minute Rule Bill unanimously passed in Parliament in late November.

If passed, it will go to a committee stage, another step towards becoming an Act of Parliament.

Jo Benham-Brown, development worker for South Tyneside Churches Together, which works with three South Tyneside food banks, said she hoped the Bill would be passed.

She added: “The rise in food poverty has been to the working poor, and it has been a significant rise in the past 12 to 24 months.

“I welcome Emma’s attempts to get a real impression of who is hungry.”