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This Government Could End Hunger in Britain – But it Refuses

The government's National Food Strategy was an opportunity to tackle hunger in Britain – but instead it shows that the Tories prefer millions living in food poverty to any kind of fundamental change.

Credit: Providence Doucet / Unsplash

Last week, the National Food Strategy was presented to the government following a two-year review into the UK’s food systems and infrastructure tasked with setting out a vision for a better food system, particularly in light of Brexit and the Covid pandemic. The Right To Food campaign saw an interrogation of the UK’s food system as a real opportunity to bring about the systemic change needed to lift ten million people in the UK out of food poverty.

I have been leading on the Right To Food campaign in Parliament since November 2020 with support on the ground from national fan activist network Fans Supporting Foodbanks and backing from supporters as wide-ranging as the Daily Mirror, Liverpool FC, Everton FC, trade unions, charities, faith leaders, businesses, and members of the public.

Following several months of campaigning in Parliament and in communities across the country, our campaign made its formal submission to the National Food Strategy review in March 2021. This centred around five key ‘asks’ of the government that we identified which, if adopted, would provide an achievable, tangible, and legally-binding route out of food poverty for millions of people in the UK. These were:

  • Universal free school meals
  • Community kitchens
  • Reasonable portions in benefits and wages
  • Ensured food security
  • Independent enforcement

In essence, we set out a tangible and workable blueprint for how to turn the Right To Food from a concept into reality, and we submitted this to the National Food Strategy team. You can read our Right To Food campaign submission here.

We started our campaign to change the law in order to change lives, improve lives, and yes—in far too many cases—to save lives being lost and destroyed by food poverty. Ten million people in the UK cannot put food on the table at present, and it is these people that our campaign must consider when responding to the National Food Strategy, for they are our primary concern.

We welcome aspects of the National Food Strategy recommendations, such as the increased eligibility of 1.1 million children for free school meals, as a step in the right direction and a small step toward tackling the evils of food poverty in the UK – and as a nod to our campaign.

But accepting the analysis of our Right To Food campaign without meeting its political ambition—to literally make it a legal right for every person in the UK to have access to food—does not help ten million people living in food poverty right now. Will these people feel the review speaks for them, will they believe it will really help them? We don’t believe so.

We needed radicalism in the National Food Strategy, but unfortunately it did not meet our own ambition. The Right To Food campaign cannot help but be disappointed at the apparent lack of political will and ambition in the review to bring about systemic change in the UK.

Let’s look closer at the issue of universality. Universal free school meals are one of the five key ‘asks’ we made in our campaign submission to the National Food Strategy.

Universality is key not just to the right to food, but also to the fight against obesity and for better nutrition, and to helping with food poverty and stigma. There are likely many children from families with significantly more than a £20,000 per annum income who are not well fed at home. Healthy balanced meals at school can make a huge difference to a child’s health, educational performance, behaviour, and life chances. And, as a matter of principle, if the state says you must be in school, it also has a responsibility to look after you—in terms of shelter, safety, and food—while you are there.

The National Food Strategy was undeniably a missed opportunity to help bring ten million people out of food poverty. As Dave Kelly, chair of national activist network Fans Supporting Foodbanks, key partners in the Right To Food campaign, pointed out when the review was published last week, the inequality section did not even mention foodbanks. Is that a sign of a detailed interrogation into the UK’s food ecosystem? You decide.

Shami Chakrabarti, a key supporter of the Right To Food campaign who helped to write our submission to the National Food Strategy, was also disappointed. She said: ‘These recommendations duck both the need for universal free school meals and a duty on the government to state how much of minimum wages or benefits it has apportioned for food. These were just two of the key ‘asks’ in our submission to the National Food Strategy.’

Shami, I believe, summed up our campaign response to the review perfectly when she said: ‘There are perfectly credible ideas in the report but nothing resembling a Right to Food. This is a wasted opportunity.’

The Right To Food campaign will of course continue the fight for a legal right to food for the millions of people currently living in food poverty in the UK. We will not stop in our efforts to secure the Right To Food for all and to end the misery of systemic food poverty. Ten million people are depending on us.