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MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the scandal of food waste and the need for the UK government to act now

Food waste has huge global ramifications. With population growth and the expansion of western-style diets, demand for food is expected to increase by 60-70% come 2050. This will have major impacts on food security, prices and the environment.

Yet one third of food is wasted annually – valued at some £600bn. Sometimes, it hasn’t even reached the consumer but is being wasted at earlier stages of production. And it is happening at a time when people are still starving around the world and crops are failing – itself not aided by global warming. Thankfully, the UN have now recognised the need for urgent action and have agreed a Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030. Not enough but at least a start.

Here in the UK, we are waking up to the scandal of food waste. The excellent Love Food Hate Waste campaign, targeted at consumers, has also highlighted the unnecessary cost – around £700 per household. As a result, domestic food waste has fallen by 21% since 2007.

Sadly, the efforts of consumers have not been matched by the food industry which is responsible for over half of all food wasted across the supply chain. For example, an estimated 20-40% of all UK fruit and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets before they even reach the shops.

Often this is good quality food left to rot in fields when shop orders are amended or cut at short notice. At other times edible produce is rejected because it does not meet a perfect size or shape, as artificially determined by retailers. Revelations of these practices quite rightly make consumers angry as good food is thrown away whilst people queue at food banks or go hungry. Farmers in developing countries meanwhile, such as Kenya can be forced to waste up to 50% of their produce because of the strict supermarket contract conditions on which they rely.

Food waste in the UK and the stranglehold that big supermarkets have over their suppliers has been exposed respectively by celebrity chef campaigners Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Plus the appalling way these suppliers are treated was also highlighted recently by a ruling by the Grocery Code Adjudicator against Tesco – with some in the supply chain waiting years to be paid.

Despite all of this, Labour MP Kerry McCarthy’s Food Waste Bill – published in the Commons last week – has not even been guaranteed the respect of a Second Reading by the government.

Kerry’s Bill also seeks to address the scandal of unsold surplus food being thrown away by supermarkets. Whilst some are addressing this issue, only 2% gets redistributed to charities. The charity FareShare has done some tremendous work in this area, estimating that if the UK diverted just 25% of its unsold food for distribution it would save the voluntary sector £250 million each year. And a lead on this has already been taken in France, whose government recently voted to require supermarkets to give away unsold food which has reached its sell-by date.

So there is a great deal more the UK government should be doing – something I will press this week in a Lords debate on the issue. At its heart, we need to prevent food being wasted in the first place, by ensuring that the food produced has a market and will be eaten. Then, if any surplus occurs, it should be distributed to charities to feed the hungry. If all else fails, the final options should be diversion to livestock feed, anaerobic digestion or compost. It should be considered an insult to those who cannot afford to feed themselves of their families that edible food ends up in landfill.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow DEFRA Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 3rd February 2016

Production values

Maggie Jones on the scandal of food waste and the need for the UK government to act now

AlfDubssml4x3.jpgAlf Dubs on amending the Immigration Bill to help unaccompanied child refugees

Once in a while there are major challenges which test our humanitarianism. Europe’s refugee crisis is one such challenge but within that there is the need to do something about unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.

They are believed to be mainly Syrian and it has been estimated that there are some 24,000 in Europe at the present time. UNHCR and Save the Children have been particularly involved in this and have suggested that the UK share should be 3,000.

These children are in a vulnerable state. Some apparently have already disappeared and there are fears that they may have become the victims of child traffickers and perhaps forced into prostitution. In any case the winter is becoming severe in many parts of Europe and the children may be sleeping rough without adequate food or warmth.

There are clear signs that the British people want to respond and many have offered to be foster parents.  

Of course it would be essential for local authorities to approve all offers of help and have monitoring safeguards to give these children all possible protection in their new homes. The government would have to make extra funding available for this purpose.

It is important that the government should make its position clear. It recently made a statement which is vague both as regards which children would be accepted and how many.

I have an amendment to the Immigration Bill which will be debated in the Lords tonight (Wednesday 3rd February). It says that the Secretary of State must make arrangements to relocate to the UK 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children who are in European countries. Furthermore, these children should be additional to the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. 

My amendment is intended firstly to seek support for the principle at stake; and secondly to get the government to explain how it intends to respond and what it meant by its vague statement of a week ago.

The figure of 3,000 is small but would make an important contribution to helping a vulnerable group.  And it is surely right that we in this country take a fair share of the responsibility.

There are some children in European countries who have family members in this country. The amendment is not intended to cover these children who already have the right to come here under existing agreements.

In 1938/39 there was a crisis in Europe as many Jewish children in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were helped to escape to safety on Kindertransports. At that time, most countries refused to help and it was really only the UK that allowed them entry. We said it could be done and as a result thousands of children could thank Britain for this humanitarian gesture.

It is only a few months ago that Sir Nicky Winton died aged 106. He was the person who saved many children from Czechoslovakia.  I was one of them. I would like other children to be given the same welcome and opportunities that I had.

Lord Alf Dubs is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. He tweets @AlfDubs

Published 3rd February 2016

Kinder politics

Alf Dubs on amending the Immigration Bill to help unaccompanied child refugees

Rosser4x3.jpgRichard Rosser on the issues taking up the final two Committee days on the Immigration Bill 

This week sees the Immigration Bill continue its Committee stage in the Lords. Among the many issues to be discussed is immigration detention.

In 1993, there were 250 immigration detention places available in the UK. At the start of last year, the figure had reached 3,915 with the number of people starting detention in the year to June 2015 topping 32,000. Up 10% on the previous year. Unusually, we have no limit in this country on administration detention for immigration purposes and no automatic judicial oversight.

An all-party group recommendation from the last parliament calling for the introduction of limits on indefinite immigration detention was endorsed by the Commons last September. Following a visit to the controversial Yarl’s Wood removal centre last year, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that a strict limit should be introduced on the length of time that anyone can be detained administratively.

The newly published government commissioned report from the former prisons and probation service ombudsmen Stephen Shaw included results of a review by Professor Mary Bosworth. Her two significant findings were that immigration detention has a negative impact upon detainees’ mental health, and that the longer it continues the larger the impact.

Mr Shaw recommended that in common with individuals who have been trafficked or tortured, there should be a presumption against detention for victims of rape and other sexual or gender based violence. Plus a complete exclusion for pregnant women. For those suffering with serious mental illness, individuals who “cannot be satisfactorily managed in detention” should be removed from the Enforcement Instructions and Guidance. All in all, detention “ought to be reduced”.

Labour supports the Shaw recommendations, and we will seek answers from Ministers on their response. We will also call for an independently chaired review to look specifically at introducing a statutory time limit on immigration detention, and the effectiveness of the procedures.

We will also use this week’s final two Committee days to look closely at the extension of the “deport first, appeal later” provisions to all immigration cases which retain a right of appeal. The main group affected by this will be those appealing on human rights grounds based on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect for private and family life.  We will oppose these measures in the Bill, highlighting how this provision will be both impractical and unfair given the high success rate. The proposals appear to have little justification other than a desire to make it harder to go down the appeal route.

Labour are particularly concerned about the effect these provisions will have on children. The Children’s Commissioner’s report last year emphasised the potential negative impact on a child not having access to a parent for some months or years due to the lengthy appeals process.

This Bill is so far living up to its stated intention: to make it harder for those without the required immigration status to live and work in this country. But what is being put forward risks the creation of a system that could subsequently harm some of the most vulnerable in society.

Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords

Published 1st February 2016

Unsound effects

Richard Rosser on the issues taking up the final two Committee days on the Immigration Bill 

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