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Social Justice

Council’s vote to make food a legal right is ‘remarkable’

Councillors voted in favour of a campaign fighting food poverty which could see the right to food enshrined in law

Liverpool is the first UK city to back a food poverty campaign which would require lawmakers to stop children going hungry “without Premiership footballers having to shame them” into it.

Councillors voted on the motion from Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne. It called for the right to food to be made a key part of the Government’s National Food Strategy – England’s biggest food policy-shake up in 75 years. 

UN data showed at least 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to afford the food they need. It’s hoped other councils will follow Liverpool’s example and place pressure on the Westminster Government to fight food insecurity with legislative change

“Today’s vote is remarkable,” Kartik Raj, Western Europe Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Big Issue.

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“Liverpool, a city that knows only too well the long-term impact of social deprivation and inequality, has united to recognise that something as basic as having enough decent food to eat ought to be guaranteed as a human right.

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“The right to food, which exists as an international law promise made by the UK, should be realised at home.”

Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF) – a partnership of Liverpool and Everton fans helping the most vulnerable on Merseyside – leads the campaign, with FSF co-founder Byrne backing their efforts in Parliament. Since the Labour politician tabled a motion on food insecurity in December, he has secured the support of more than fifty MPs.

“Merseyside’s anti-poverty organisers who have bridged the Everton-Liverpool divide to ensure food assistance right through the pandemic should be an inspiration to all of us. It is possible to see these basic human rights as universal,” Raj said. “As things we have in common. 

“It’s time for the Government and parliamentarians to recognise that too.”

Covid-19 redundancies, the furlough scheme and income cuts drove food bank use to a record high in recent months. The Trussell Trust gave out 2,600 food parcels a day to children between April and September last year, meaning a child needed emergency food every 34 seconds.

“If we can legislate to make access to food a legal right in the UK, it would mean an end to many of the situations that force people into food poverty at present,” Fans Supporting Foodbanks chair Dave Kelly said. “And make the Government legally responsible for ensuring its citizens do not go hungry. 

“For example, the five-week wait for Universal Credit would have to go. Children who receive free school meals would have to be catered for during the school holidays – without Premiership footballers having to shame the Government into providing for them.”

There were 5.7 million people claiming Universal Credit by October across the UK, according to government figures – a 90 per cent rise since March.

“We need a change in the law to ensure people do not go hungry any longer. And to hold the Government to account on their failings,” Byrne said.

“The figures are simply devastating for one of the richest nations in the world. They highlight the level of inequality in the UK in 2021. It is my belief that this crisis has been born out of political choices and systemic failings over the past four decades which have now reached a tipping point for so many.”

In November the Government introduced the Covid Winter Grant scheme. The £170m fund is for councils to support disadvantaged families through the pandemic until the end of March this year. Ministers earmarked at least 80 per cent to help cover food and utility costs.

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