A right to food

Some 11m people in the UK suffer from food poverty, a direct result of political choices made as our most vulnerable citizens are subjected to 12 years of austerity.

This does not need to be the case.

Things were very different when Labour were in Government from 1997-2010; food poverty rates fell 1.1 million. The pandemic has made a dire situation even worse, and with the cost of living crisis, we risk having a generation of children, older people and many others whose lives are blighted by food poverty.

I helped lead the charge in Southwark to lobby theGovernment to incorporate a Right to Food in the National Food Strategy, and for Southwark to become a Right to Food borough. This change would clarify the government’s obligations on food poverty and introduce legal means by which government bodies can be held accountable for violations.

You can read the full text of my motion below:

Motion on the right to food

That this Council:-

(a)      recognises that we are seeing a crisis of food poverty borne out of political choices and systemic failings from successive Coalition and Tory governments since austerity began;

(b)      believes that food poverty should never be seen as inevitable, and notes that from 1997 to 2010 poverty reduced significantly (for instance the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that the number of children in relative poverty fell by over 1.1 million from 1997-2010), showing that with sufficient political willpower these issues can be tackled;

(c)      notes that after a decade of government-imposed austerity, child poverty and food hunger has increased significantly, and led to a precarious situation for many, even before the pandemic struck;

(d)      believes that the pandemic has exacerbated problems and pushed more people into food poverty, with perhaps the worst yet to come, and though it is hard to quantify the extent of food poverty in Southwark we know the following:-

(i)       over 10,000 children are currently eligible for Free School Meals and therefore at risk of going hungry during the school holidays, with this number rising; and

(ii)       foodbank use in Southwark has increased four-fold since March 2020 when the coronavirus  crisis took hold

(e)      condemns the Government for the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit, which came into effect in October 2021, noting the following:-

(i)       universal credit is claimed by more than 5.5 million households across the UK;

(ii)       the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a charity which researches poverty – states millions of households will face an income loss equivalent to £1,040 a year;

(iii)      the charity Citizens Advice has warned that a third of people on Universal Credit will end up in debt due to the reduction, which will inevitably lead to more people being reliant on food banks; and

(iv)      the 5-week wait for Universal Credit impacts people’s ability to pay bills and buy food, and believes that this wait is wholly unjustifiable and should be scrapped;

(h)      believes that tackling food poverty requires a boroughwide effort, across the Council and public services, the voluntary and community sector, communities and business, with a long term, structural approach to find lasting solutions and that, as such, the Council should continue to build on and update its boroughwide Food Access Plan;

(i)       believes that this would help the Council, community organisations and other partners to work together to identify risks, assess the current response and coordinate action, with an understanding that those involved can achieve more by acting together than they could by acting separately, and helping to strengthen ‘food poverty alliances’ (the many different networks in the city working to combat food poverty and hunger);

(j)       believes that tackling food poverty is not a standalone issue and is underpinned by wider socio-economic factors, and as such the development of a Food Access Plan must be part of the Council’s wider work to tackle inequality in the city;

(k)      gives its support to The Right to Food campaign, a national campaign which argues that the 11 million people in food poverty should be central to this strategy, and that ‘Right to Food’ should be enshrined into law – clarifying government’s obligations on food poverty and introducing legal avenues to hold government bodies accountable for violations; and

(l)       calls for the Unite-backed ‘Right to Food’ to be incorporated into the National Food Strategy, and asks the Leader of the Council to write to the Government to make this case.