bowl of tomatoes served on person hand
Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Today, the Government will unveil its long-awaited food strategy: a response to food adviser Henry Dimbleby’s independent review into our food security and food systems. When the Dimbleby report was originally commissioned, food poverty had already become a scandalous reality for too many families. With the cost of living crisis is putting food, fuel and other essentials beyond the reach of far too many, a National Food Strategy which took these challenges seriously has never been more essential.

Yet it is already clear that the ambition of Dimbleby’s review has not translated to the Government’s resulting food white paper. Dimbleby’s original recommendations, welcomed at the time by a broad range of food experts and charities, were wide-ranging – from expanding the eligibility of key food schemes like Free School Meals and Healthy Start, to improving the resilience of our food systems to climate change. The resulting Government White Paper published today, however, ignores many of those key recommendations.

When the Government’s own food adviser and review author says that the Government’s response is “not a strategy”, is “not radical enough” and “needs to be much bolder”, then questions must be asked about how seriously the Government is taking the hunger crisis that threatens to envelop even more families as inflation soars.

As well as the lack of broader ambition, the missed opportunities in terms of policy are notable. As a Party, we have campaigned for the value of Healthy Start vouchers to be increased in line with inflation. While Government touted the success of the Healthy Start scheme in the Paper, Dimbleby’s call for the scheme’s expansion were ignored, the possible funding mechanism for doing so rejected, and well-reported issues with the digitisation of the scheme were glossed over. The Government also rejected Dimbleby’s recommendation to expand access to Free School Meals, which has also been a key ask of Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign. The white paper does acknowledge the Government’s support for Holiday Hunger schemes, but the Government could and should go further, and learn from our movement’s pioneering work on this issue.

But despite the overall disappointment, there are some elements that can be welcomed. Government plans to publish a land use framework next year, which while not the most headline grabbing proposal, would introduce a much-needed strategic element into how communities reconcile the ever-increasing demands we are placing on land: housing, energy production, leisure, food production and increasing food security, and increasing biodiversity. Similarly, the white paper makes steps towards more effective use of public sector procurement to support the British farming industry, with a consultation on public sector food and catering policy with the suggestion that at least 50% of food spend must be on food produced locally or certified to higher environmental production standards.

As is often the case, the co-operative movement is stepping up to fill some of these gaps. At a national level, the Co-operative Group is rolling out Caboodle, an initiative aimed to ensure that surplus food gets to the people who need it most. Central England Co-operative’s work has reduced food waste significantly over the last few years with its pioneering relationship with FareShare Midlands, while East of England Co-operative has led the way with its work on holiday hunger. The Co-operative Party itself continues harness the power of over 1,000 councillors to push for local solutions to food justice, whilst our MSPs in Scotland continue to fight for a Right to Food in Scots Law.

What was needed today was a comprehensive food strategy that supported families, farmers and our food system. Instead, there will also be no food bill – so the limited recommendations put forward will not be enshrined in law. Making it easier for deer stalkers to sell wild venison isn’t going to help families who are struggling to feed their children. Failing to take the climate crisis seriously isn’t going to help our agricultural sector. From farm to table, we need the Government to take food security seriously. We will continue to push the Government to go further to support those who need it most, and do what our movement does best: provide practical support on the ground, in our communities, to deliver food justice for all.