I am only too aware that many people are facing hardship and despair. Particularly as the economic squeeze becomes tighter and the cost of living grows higher – more and more people are simply finding that there isn’t enough to go around. We Ministers in Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister are committed to tackling the issues of poverty and social exclusion faced by more and more people, both young and old.
For example we are currently consulting on our proposals for a £80 Million pounds Social Investment Fund. The aim of the Fund is to reduce poverty, unemployment and physical deterioration. It will be delivered through significant area-based interventions, in partnership with local communities.
As well as the Social Investment Fund the Executive has also announced a £20m pounds Social Protection Fund. This fund will assist those most in need. It will tackle disadvantage and protect the most vulnerable, and assist in mitigating the effect of the current economic situation.
Government, however, cannot win the battle against poverty and social exclusion on its own. We need support of business, and the voluntary and community sectors, including organisations like FareShare.
FareShare was formally launched today and is a welcome, common sense approach to the redistribution of surplus food in these difficult times.
The model proposed has worked very successfully for the last 10 years elsewhere; and has meant that surplus local food can be sourced from local suppliers and then re-distributed to charities and individuals.
When Junior Minister Jonathan Bell and I met with FareShare we discussed how Seventeen million tonnes of food was being ploughed into landfill sites every year in Britain all because it's cheaper and easier for the food industry to dump it than give it to those in need. Food that is perfectly alright to eat – that is fresh, tasty, and well within its sell-by-date. The wastage is even worse when you consider its worth - if sold in shops; this dumped food would cost around £18 billion – almost one and a half times our block grant.
The food industry calls this a 'surplus' - but when you consider the millions who can't afford to buy healthy food, it's a shocking waste. And according to some campaigners, it's not just shocking - it's completely immoral.
Indeed, some fruit is being binned simply because it's the wrong shape – for instances bananas binned because they do not met with EU Regulations!
The need for, and importance of, such a service here is therefore evident. The six month pilot project has resulted in some 35 voluntary and community projects becoming involved. Food rescued from landfill in a six month period alone, equates to just over 48,000 meals. And 48,000 meals makes a huge difference to many, many adults and children, who otherwise would have gone without.
We in government welcome this innovative project and the work that it does. We particularly welcome FareShare’s intention to roll out and expand the scheme to other areas here, including the North West, and of course I declare an interest in that decision given that my own Constituency of Foyle would welcome such a project.
For many families here food poverty means a poor diet and poor nutrition. This is turn means increased costs to the health service. FareShare’s unique food-banking service, means that people can access fresh quality produce. This will be a tremendous benefit for very many people.
We in the FMdFM office wish FareShare well with its efforts to further raise awareness amongst policy makers, influencers and the food industry, and for developing this excellent model of corporate social responsibility. Together, we can develop this common sense model, that turns waste into wealth and improves health. The message that we would like to get across is that no good food should be wasted.