Labour takes a ‘step forward’ with plans for a human right to food

The party has pledged to bring in a Fair Food Act that will enshrine the right to food in law – and say they will halve foodbank use over three years

Labour’s plans to recognise a right to food as a human right as well as halving the amount of foodbank usage inside three years have been hailed as a “step forward” by campaigners.

Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Sue Hayman made the announcement at the party’s annual conference in Brighton as well as outlining plans for a new National Food Commission to monitor food insecurity and a £6m Access to Food fund.

The fund will kickstart community-based local food systems, primarily in the 50 most food deprived areas of the country and will go hand-in-hand with a new Fair Food Act to enshrine a right to food in UK law as well as their foodbank usage target.

“In the world’s sixth richest country, it is a scandal that people are going hungry,” said Hayman as she delivered the announcement.

While the plans are subject to Labour being voted in to power at the next election, University of Bristol law lecture Tomaso Ferrando insists their plans are an important step towards revamping the UK system to move away from relying on charity and handouts to focus instead on the reasons why people are going hungry.

“It’s a good starting point – it shows the difference in politics between Labour, who are recognising that foodbanks are the symptom of a problem, and the Conservatives who are taking pictures with their MPs in foodbanks,” he told The Big Issue.

“The recognition through the fund is important – £6m is not that much but it recognises that you need to have a different food system in order to provide a people with what they have right to. That’s a huge step forward.

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“And you have the commission which is a huge step forward in terms of the transparency and democracy if it is open to the public. It turns food into a political issue and ensures that decisions on food are made in a political way by consultation and participation.

“It’s the right direction in the terms of how foodbanks are incompatible with a right to food – which is what we’ve been saying – and that you cannot build the food system on charity and handouts. But the way they will be implementing it is unclear because we don’t know what will happen.

“The next step they should be taking is a right to food-based approach to society which requires much more than looking just at foodbanks.”

Ferrando, along with food rights charity Sustain and other campaigners, has been leading the fight to remove the need for foodbanks just to stop people starving and instead looking at sustainable sources under a new food system.

The issue also featured in UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s conclusions following his visit to the UK as well as Human Rights Watch’s own investigation to food poverty in the UK.

Labour’s admission sees them join the Scottish government, Liberal Democrats and the Co-operative Party in viewing the issue beyond simply feeding people and instead looking at the entire food system and the welfare policies that impact people’s access to food.

But Ferrando insists that it is still unclear how Labour plan to meet their target.

“Trussell Trust represent only about 25 per cent of the food aid network, are Labour talking about that or all the foodbanks?” he said. “Today’s amount of foodbanks is not sufficient enough to provide people with enough food. In reality we would need more foodbanks but they are going to be chopping them.

“It’s a good commitment but I think that we need is a more holistic approach that has to be based on measures like universal basic income or a different method of delivering food to families.”

Labour’s announcements have also been welcomed by the Trussell Trust who distributed a record 1.6 million emergency food parcels last year.

The national foodbank charity released a report last week calling for Universal Credit’s five-week wait to be axed to prevent being forced to turn to foodbanks to stave off starvation.

Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said: “No one in the UK should need a foodbank. We should all have enough money coming in for a decent standard of living, and any sign of our country’s politicians committing to end the need for food banks is welcome.

“We know we can reach a future where no one needs a foodbank – but if we’re to get there, we need our government and political parties on all sides to recognise the poverty that is pushing more and more people to the doors of foodbanks.”