Mary Creagh – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Mary Creagh, the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Rural Affairs and Food, to the Labour Party conference on 1st October 2012.

Conference, in 2010 no-one knew what a foodbank was.

Well we do now.

I have spent the last nine months visiting foodbanks, where people collect and distribute food to families who cannot afford to feed themselves.

In 2012.

In Britain.

In Norwich, organiser Grant Habershon told me how demand at his foodbank had risen by 50 per cent compared to last year as more parents struggled to feed their children during the school holidays.

In Bradford, I packed a food parcel for a mum who skipped meals so her children could eat –dry toast with no jam.

In Harlow, in Skelmersdale, Halesowen, Dorset, the story was the same.

Cuts to lunch clubs, breakfast clubs, changes to tax credits and housing benefit are all forcing proud parents to rely on charity.

I saw the daily struggle of families to put a hot meal on the table.

And I learned about the work of churches, and charities like the Trussell Trust, FoodCycle and Fareshare.

The Trussell Trust will feed 200,000 people this year.

FareShare feeds 36,000 people a day through their network of 700 charities.

We are the seventh richest nation in the world yet we face an epidemic of hidden hunger, particularly in children.

Working families relying on charity for a daily meal.

But there is more than enough food to go round. Food is not the problem. The problem is a Tory-led Government making the wrong political and economic choices.

A Government so out of touch that their farming minister didn’t even know the price of a pint of milk.

A cost of living crisis.

But what is the cost of hunger?

Hunger costs millions in poorer educational results for children too hungry to concentrate in class.

Hunger costs millions in lost productivity.

This is the poverty trap. This is the real cost of hunger.

Last year, Conference, I asked you to join ‘Back the Apple’, our campaign to save the Agricultural Wages Board, to protect the pay and conditions of rural workers in England and Wales.

I am pleased to say that, despite the Tories and Liberal Democrats, voting to abolish the AWB, thanks to our campaign alongside Labour MPs, Unite the Union and the Welsh Assembly Government, the Government has not managed to get rid of it.

Today, 1 October, what may be the last Agricultural Wages Order comes into force. Today over one hundred and fifty two thousand farmworkers, fruit pickers, food packers will get a pay rise – thanks to you.

Next year, if the Tories have their way, they won’t.

But I will be working with my Shadow team to expose how out of touch the Tories and Lib Dems are with rural areas.

I want to thank my fantastic shadow Ministers Huw Irranca-Davies, Gavin Shuker, Tom Harris, in the Commons; Jim Knight and our very own dairy farmer John Grantchester in the Lords; our whip Susan Elan Jones; team PPS Chris Evans; and Fiona O’Donnell and Heidi Alexander who have now left the team.

And what have the Tories been doing in rural areas?

Youth unemployment rose faster in rural areas than in cities in the first two years of this Government.

Decimated rural bus services.

Delayed the roll out of universal broadband.

Making it harder to start and grow a business in the countryside.

So what can Labour do to tackle this cost of living crisis and create green jobs?

We have focussed on three big areas.

First, people are struggling to pay their water bills.

Bad debt adds £15 a year to everyone’s bill.

We want water companies to cut that bad debt by taking tough action on those who won’t pay in order to help those who can’t pay.

A Labour Government would force all water companies to offer social tariffs to help those most in need. But this Government wants to leave it to water companies to decide for themselves.

Second, we want the food industry to create the new green jobs that Britain needs.

The food industry is our largest manufacturing sector. It turns over £76 billion a year, with export earnings worth £12 billion pounds.

Big numbers, big opportunities.

The world will need to feed an extra billion people by 2025.

We need food security here at home and to export more to a world hungry for Great British food.

We want a fair deal on food.

That means a fair price for the milk that dairy farmers produce and a Groceries Code Adjudicator with real teeth.

Labour have been working alongside the Consumer Association for clearer pricing in supermarkets to ensure special offers really do offer a good deal.

Third, our strategy for new green jobs means we’ve got to stop talking about waste and start talking about natural resources.

Businesses need a secure supply of raw materials. They are struggling to source those materials in the UK as we export so much of our waste.

When we export waste, we export jobs. If we keep it here we keep those jobs in the UK.

We will raise our recycling targets and give waste processors the certainty they need to invest in new facilities and create new green jobs.

And in a world where food prices are rising and people are going hungry we think it is wrong that edible food goes to landfill.

We can create low carbon jobs collecting that food and getting it to people who need it.

But this Government just doesn’t have a plan.

Conference, families need a Labour Government that is on their side.

But even in opposition we can do our bit.

This Saturday, 6 October, I will be standing outside a supermarket in Wakefield with the whole Labour team asking people to donate one food item to FareShare’s Million Meal appeal.

You can join us by going to fareshare.org.uk. The twitter hashtag is #MealAppeal.

Across the country, hundreds of Labour MPs, councillors and party members will be doing the same.

Sign up to stand up at fareshare.org.uk.

We may not make the rules in government but we can still make the change we need on the ground.

Conference, Labour has changed.

Let’s show people we are the change the country needs.