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‘No one deserves to starve’: UK cities back call to make food a legal right

The Right to Food campaign is gaining traction as city leaders across the UK demand the Government uses the law to end food poverty

City leaders across the UK are teaming up to call on the Government to make food a legal right and “end the scandal of food poverty” for good.

Manchester is the second UK city to get behind the Right to Food campaign and Birmingham is set to follow after pressure from local community groups.

Manchester councillor Bev Craig said the city will send a letter to the Government asking lawmakers to turn the campaign’s asks into action.

That would mean including the legal right to food in the National Food Strategy, England’s biggest food policy shake-up in 75 years, and placing responsibility on the Government to end national hunger.

Councillor Craig said it was “simply unacceptable that in 2021, in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, people are still going hungry”.

“The council is resolute in our belief that ending food poverty is a cause more than worth fighting for,” she added. “This is why we are joining the call for towns and cities to come together and demand the Government guarantees the right to food and ends the scandal of food poverty.”

A record high of nearly two million people in the UK used a food bank in 2019-20, according to the Trussell Trust, with food insecurity on the rise as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. The UK’s food poverty rate is among the highest in Europe

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Nearly 15 per cent of families with children have struggled to afford food since March last year, the Food Foundation said. Nearly a million kids signed up for free school meals for the first time in 2020.

Liverpool councillors were the first to vote in support of making access to food a legal right, driven by Right to Food co-founder Ian Byrne MP. 

“No one deserves to starve, everyone deserves to live with dignity,” said Alex Timperley, a local organiser with Manchester City FC Fans Foodbank Support. The group is a member of the national Fans Supporting Foodbanks network which supports the campaign across the UK.

“We believe that a Right to Food will go a long way to making that real.”

Around 620,000 people in the area live in poverty, according to Greater Manchester Poverty Monitor, including 200,000 children. 

“Already high” levels of poverty around the city “are likely to have become worse during the pandemic,” a spokesperson for the charity said.

The figures showed the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Greater Manchester increased by 93 per cent between March and August last year.

Meanwhile Birmingham council leader Ian Ward has committed to bringing a Right to Food motion to the city’s councillors “as soon [he is] able to do so”.

The Food Justice Network, a coalition of more than 200 Birmingham community groups, petitioned the council to back the campaign.

By any measure, the UK is a wealthy nation and the right to food should be something we can all take for granted,” Ward said.

“But sadly, we all know that that is not the case and the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the deep divide between the haves and have-nots.”

Nearly 40 per cent of children in Birmingham grow up in poverty, according to End Child Poverty.

Human rights organisation Just Fair has been campaigning for UK domestic law to recognise food as a legal right since 2011 and backs the Right to Food campaign.

The UK Government is legally required under international human rights law to secure the human right to adequate food for everyone in the UK,” director Jess McQuail told The Big Issue.

“According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to adequate food is realised when ‘every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement’. 

“We have seen large increases in the levels of hunger and food bank usage over the last year, all of which are indicative of the UK being in breach of its international legal obligations in respect of the right to food. Protecting the right to food would mean that no one went to bed hungry.”

Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF), a group of Liverpool and Everton fans helping those in need on Merseyside, co-founded the Right to Food campaign with Liverpool West Derby MP Byrne.