Big Issue Vendor

What is the Right to Food?

The Right to Food campaign has been backed by city councils, charities and now, a group of MPs making recommendations to the Government. The Big Issue explains what putting the right to food in law would really mean
The Right to Food campaign is taking action on soaring food bank use - a problem faced by Brits well before the pandemic. Image: Pexels

The Right to Food campaign, created to end food poverty for millions, has been picking up momentum across the country. 

The movement was kickstarted by a Merseyside organisation Fans Supporting Foodbanks with the help of Ian Byrne MP, aiming to enshrine people’s right to food in law. Now a Westminster committee wants the Government to adopt the policy and end food poverty for good.

The poorest families across the UK were forced to choose between eating, heating their homes and keeping up with rent even before the pandemic. Now lockdown has intensified the financial pressure on people struggling to get by, and experts fear national hunger could continue to get worse even after the Covid-19 crisis passes.

Why is the right to food important?

UK food poverty levels, and its reliance on food banks, have been rising consistently year on year for nearly a decade. But the number of people in need of emergency food parcels hit new heights in 2020 after the Covid-19 crisis caused thousands to lose their jobs or see their incomes cut significantly. 

The nearly two million people who turned to food banks last year were a marked rise on the 913,000 receiving emergency food in March 2013. Meanwhile around ten million people across the country are experiencing food poverty, according to Ian Byrne, campaign leader and Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby.

Nearly six million adults and 1.7 million children were struggling to get enough food between September 2020 and February 2021, according to a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

Testimony from parents and carers revealed families were having to make trade-offs like going without healthy food in order to afford school uniforms for their children when they returned to school after lockdown.

Emma, a mum of three in Kent, told the Big Issue she and her husband had skipped meals to make sure their children didn’t go without, but could not rely on their children receiving a nutritious lunch at school because they did not qualify for free school meals.

What will the right to food mean if adopted across the country?

Giving every person a legal right to food would place responsibility on the Government to end hunger. 

The right to food would make it easier to hold politicians legally accountable for ensuring families like Emma’s did not have to make these difficult choices and would always know where their next meal was coming from.

Many of those backing the Right to Food campaign have asked specifically for it to be included in the National Food Strategy, an independent review commissioned by the Government which has been described as England’s biggest food policy shake-up in 75 years. 

Newcastle councillor Ann Schofield, who successfully brought forward a motion which saw the city formally support the campaign, told The Big Issue that the Government had “largely failed people over hunger, particularly children”.

Campaigners believe it would give the public more power to hold ministers accountable for ending food poverty, by creating a legal mechanism for enforcing it.

Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription. 

The legislation would place new responsibilities on authorities to ensure everyone has access to food. That could include measures to boost people’s incomes (like an increased – and required – real living wage), a cap on living costs such as utility bills, and easier access to nutritious food such as extending free school meals to more pupils.

The legislation would place new responsibilities on authorities to ensure everyone has access to food. That could include measures to boost people’s incomes (like an increased – and required – real living wage), a cap on living costs such as utility bills, and easier access to nutritious food such as extending free school meals to more pupils.

Who started the Right to Food campaign?

Who has already backed the right to food campaign?

Local leaders across the country, including in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool have backed the campaign. 

A number of other organisations such as JustFair and Sustain UK have helped drive the project, while others like Unite the Union have given their public support.

Politicians in York are campaigning for the city to be next in line to join the Right to Food movement. The city’s Labour branch is petitioning for the council to recognise local poverty levels, with more than 4,000 children living in poverty despite the city’s “affluent” reputation.

Rachael Maskell, Labour Co-operative MP for York Central, supported the campaign and said her office had “dealt with some truly heart-breaking cases” during the pandemic including “mothers going hungry to feed their children” and elderly people having to choose between heating and eating.

“If it were not for the generosity of people giving food and money to local food banks hundreds of people in York would have ended up in food destitution,” she added.

“This issue cannot and should not be brushed under the carpet any longer. Both the Government and Councils up and down the country need to reflect on the scale of this issue and take the chance whilst this review is taking place to ensure that the right to food is made into law.”

What can I do to back the Right to Food?

A public petition calling on the Government to enshrine the right in law has amassed nearly 50,000 signatures.

“Tackling poverty in all forms is a key priority for this Government,” ministers responded, adding: “We have provided an unprecedented level of support over the past year to protect the most vulnerable through the COVID-19 pandemic.” The petition is still collecting signatures.

People who want to get involved have also been invited to email Ian Byrne MP to add their signature to the Right to Food campaign pledge, or to ask their local MP to sign the Early Day Motion on Food Insecurity and the Right to Food.

Campaigners have also encouraged the public to contact National Food Strategy chair Henry Dimbleby to recommend the Right to Food is included in the review.