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Activism

Newcastle backs Right To Food campaign to ‘end the scandal’ of poverty

“The Government’s attitude to people who are hungry, particularly children, has been callous and it has failed.”

Newcastle City Council has become the latest local authority to throw its support behind the Right to Food campaign to “end the scandal” for millions afflicted by food poverty.

Campaigners want everybody to have a legal right to food, which would place responsibility on the Government to end hunger. 

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Local leaders across the country, including in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, have given their backing.

Newcastle councillors will write to ministers and ask that the right to food 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. 

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Newcastle councillor Ann Schofield, who brought forward the motion, told The Big Issue: “I’m a councillor for one of the most disadvantaged areas in Newcastle. I said I would really like to take this on and see if I could get a motion through. 

“I think the Government has largely failed people over hunger, particularly children. 

“It seems to me that what we’ve got to do is to put the right to food on a legal footing so that we can take the Government to task and hold them accountable around hunger and particularly child hunger.” 

A petition to make access to food a legal right in the UK was launched in June and has garnered more than 45,000 signatures. 

“Putting the Right to Food into UK law would make the Government legally responsible to help anyone in our communities who is going hungry, to take action to prevent barriers in accessing food and to take steps to tackle the crisis of food insecurity in the UK which is effecting 10 million people,” the petition reads. 

“We currently lack a legal mechanism for enforcing the basic right to food.

“Legislation enshrining this right would set out tasks and responsibilities for the wide range of public bodies that would need to take action to ensure everyone has access to essential foodstuffs.”

The Government has responded to the petition, but refused to commit to implementing its demands. 

In response, the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Tackling poverty in all forms is a key priority for this Government. We have provided an unprecedented level of support over the past year to protect the most vulnerable through the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

But the Petitions Committee, a group of MPs who oversee the petitions system, requested a revised response from the Government as “they felt that the response did not directly address the request of the petition”. At 100,000 signatures, the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.

Ian Byrne, the Liverpool Labour MP who is spearheading the right to food campaign alongside grassroots organisation Fans Supporting Foodbanks, said he was “delighted” Newcastle had joined the campaign. 

“Delighted to see @NewcastleCC join our ever-lengthening list of authorities joining the call for systemic change and the #RightToFood,” he wrote on Twitter. 

“Thanks to all involved and in particular Cllr Ann Schofield for pushing the motion.”

Cllr Schofield added: “The Government’s attitude to people who are hungry, particularly children, has been callous and it has failed. 

 “I think they need to completely relook at the way they respond to poverty and review the benefits system, which is failing in both its desires and objectives.

“They should implement the right to food in their national food strategy, which would include looking at food waste.”

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