Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice
On 11th May, I was joined by the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales and Trefnydd and the Welsh Government’s Director of Education and Welsh Language for a Food Poverty Roundtable. The event brought together interested parties from the public sector, third sector and others, to discuss the cost of living crisis and the impact of rising food prices and energy costs on levels of food poverty.
We heard about the Welsh Government’s continuing engagement with the large food retailers. They are important because 98% of groceries consumed at home are sold by major supermarkets. Retailers are very conscious of the cost of living crisis and they are responding. They are also active partners with food banks.
The Welsh Government has given an undertaking to develop our agriculture and food manufacturing industries which provide employment, economic value, and project Wales to the wider world. We want to build on these qualities, improve productivity and added value. Support to business will be increasingly conditional on how doing so can advance the Future Generations ‘well-being’ goals.
The important role of schools in tackling food poverty was highlighted. Education leads on a range of initiatives including the Welsh Government’s commitment to ensure no child eligible for a free school meal, went without a meal during the pandemic and the holiday periods.
More lately, the commitment under the Cooperation Agreement with Plaid Cymru to roll out universal primary Free School Meals by the end of the Cooperation Agreement on 30 November 2024, will mean that every child in a maintained primary school will have access to at least one nutritious meal a day at school. This will support our efforts to eradicate child poverty, support educational attainment and child nutrition and boost local food production and distribution which will benefit local economies.
We are also exploring ways to streamline and simplify applications for benefits, including Free School Meals, ensuring families receive the financial support they are entitled to.
Opportunities to tackle food justice issues in the Community Food Strategy were also discussed. There is diverse and energetic grass-roots activity across Wales and the Strategy will aim to enable this so that small scale food related activities can add value economically, environmentally or socially.
We heard evidence from the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network about the continued and growing demand for access to emergency food provision. Discussions recognised that, alongside support to meet the immediate needs of households experiencing food poverty, there is also a need to focus resources on prevention, sustainability and resilience.
The Big Bocs Bwyd initiative, the work of Food Sense Wales and the Community Hub programme led by Betsi Cadwallader Health Board were amongst a range of excellent projects and examples of good practice that have been developed with the aim of addressing food poverty in the here and now and in the longer term. Their work, and that of the many food poverty initiatives that I have visited, are an inspiration. They demonstrate what can happen when communities come together to support their most vulnerable citizens.
The roundtable gave widespread support for a cash first approach to tackling food poverty. Welsh Government’s programmes which have provided financial support to vulnerable households were welcomed, such as our Winter Fuel Support Scheme, financial support for parents of free school meal pupils to help with the cost of food during the school holidays and our Discretionary Assistance Fund for those experiencing extreme financial hardship.
There was also recognition that the UK Government has a key role to play. We will continue to press for action to tackle the energy crisis and to uprate benefits in line with inflation.
This year, the Welsh Government is allocating £3.9 million to help alleviate food poverty and tackle the root causes of food poverty. This will build on the success of previously funded work in this area which has supported community food organisations to increase their reach, build their resilience and meet the immediate demand for food.
The roundtable offered an opportunity for attendees to consider how resources should be directed to more effectively support people experiencing food poverty in the here and now and how we can help to reduce and prevent the need for emergency food provision in the longer term.
We are currently considering the feedback received and will provide an update at our next Cost of Living Summit which will take place before the summer recess.