Retailers have privately told ministers that food prices have peaked and will start to fall significantly in the coming months. But that will do little to help those battling soaring bills, with warnings even middle-class families are struggling.
Farmers, retailers and others from across the UK food chain have been invited to a summit at No 10 on Tuesday. The meeting was reportedly brought forward after food inflation hit another high last month.
Professor Tim Lang, a former government adviser, said one message Rishi Sunak could deliver at the meeting was: “He could say, ‘Right, I want you to halve the prices on key fruit, vegetables and carbohydrates like potatoes’.”
The government’s ex-food tsar Henry Dimbleby said politicians “need to be making fruit and veg much cheaper for those who can’t afford it”.
Official figures put food and drink price inflation at more than 19.2 in the year to March, almost twice the overall headline rate. The hikes have been driven by soaraway energy costs and disruption to the supply chain caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.
At the same time, rising wages, difficult weather conditions, which have affected harvests, and trade barriers caused by Brexit have all been blamed for rising costs. Prof Lang said that he was part of a cost of living commission in a London borough that had heard evidence of people going without meals for days.
He also warned of what he said was the worsening affordability of “even middle-class people to eat a decent diet”.
Mr Dimbleby said he backed a targeted approach. “You need to direct support at the families who are really struggling,” he said, warning that it would not be “right” for the better off to also receive subsidised fruit and vegetables. His recommendations to the government included a “Community Eatwell” programme, designed to support those on low incomes to improve their diets.
Experts warn any changes to the UK supply chain will take time to affect consumers. And prices are already a source of tension between supermarkets and the farmers who produce much of what they see on their shelves.
It is understood the Downing Street event will feature speeches and breakout sessions on key themes. There will also be a showcase of Great British food and drink businesses and innovators.
A government spokesperson said: “Our UK Farm to Fork summit will bring together government and representatives from across the food supply chain to step up cooperation and promote all elements of our world-renowned farming and food industries.
“The event will look at how we can champion UK food and drink both at home and abroad by boosting confidence, helping more businesses to invest in domestic production, and supporting the long-term resilience and sustainability of the UK food sector.”