‘More foodbanks than McDonald’s’ - Liverpool MP confronts Boris Johnson over food poverty and ‘humanitarian crisis’

Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, called out the government in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

A Liverpool MP today called out the government over its apparent plan to tackle food poverty and the worsening cost of living crisis threatening families up and down the country.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Ian Byrne, MP for West Derby, directly questioned prime minister Boris Johnson and his government over its sustainable development goals, specifically the commitment to ending hunger.

Mr Byrne said: “We have a humanitarian crisis of food poverty in all constituencies represented in this house. We’ve got more foodbanks than McDonald’s.”

He then asked the prime minister to send him a copy of the government’s plan to end hunger - a commitment they signed up to in 2015.

Mr Byrne has shone a light on food poverty and campaigned alongside foodbanks throughout his political career.

In 2015, four years before his election as MP, he co-founded Fans Supporting Foodbanks to give football fans a way to join together to help fight food poverty regardless of team colours.

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Humanitarian crisis

Mr Byrne told the House of Commons: “People now face freezing homes at this very moment because of the horrific cost of living crisis and because of political choices that have been made by this government.

“In 2015 the government signed up to delivering the 2030 sustainable development goals domestically, including ending hunger.

“Can the Prime Minister tell me who and what department is responsible for delivering this goal to end hunger domestically and can he send me a plan to deliver it?”

Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, Ian Byrne. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Right for food

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This comes only weeks after Mr Byrne reiterated his calls for the government to take food poverty more seriously and legislate a ‘right for food’ in Tribune magazine.

In the article, he said: “If reliance on charity alone were considered a sufficient guarantee for basic human needs in the UK, previous generations would not have legislated for universal state schooling and the national health service—solutions to fundamental problems which have transformed this nation for the better.

“That is why we need to legislate for the right to food.

“We need enforceable food rights to ensure that the government of the day is accountable for making sure that nobody goes hungry, and is prevented from making decisions that lead to people being unable to afford to put a meal on the table.

“Ministers should be under a duty, when setting the minimum wage and any relevant social security benefit, to state how much of the prescribed sum has been calculated for food, because right now it is not enough. How can this be allowed?”

How did the prime minister respond in the House?

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Boris Johnson said: “The whole of government is engaged in campaign and to that end we expanded free school meals for 5–7-year-olds which helps 1.3 million children.

“We boosted the healthy start vouchers by a third and Mr Speaker of course there is a holiday food and activities programme that continues to run, a 200-million-pound fund.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.

“But the best thing that we can do as a country, as a society is to keep going with our plan for economic growth, with higher wage higher skilled jobs putting bread on the table of families up and down this country.”

How has food poverty affected Liverpool?

Almost 10,000 emergency food parcels were handed out to people in Liverpool in six months, according to data released in November from the Trussell Trust.

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9,021 of the parcels, which contained either three or seven days’ worth of food, were handed out between April and September last year, almost 10% of the 108,778 parcels delivered throughout the Northwest in that same time.

These emergency food parcels have been in demand across the whole country.

In that six-month period, almost one million parcels were handed out to people in need throughout the United Kingdom, with more than 350-thousand of them going to children.

Emma Revie, Trussell Trust chief executive, said: “Everyone in the UK should be able to afford the essentials – to buy their own food and heat their homes.

“Yet food banks in our network continue to see more and more people facing destitution with an increase in food parcels going to children. This is not right.”

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She added: “The answer must be for us to have the stability of a strong enough social security system to protect any one of us when we need it.”