News Right to Food

Hungry for change: Peers call for food system failures to be fixed

New report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment examines how to make a healthy, sustainable diet accessible and affordable for everyone.

Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

The UK’s food system is failing, putting the health of the population, and of the planet, at risk. The report of the Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, published today, calls upon the Government to end years of inaction and ensure that a healthy, sustainable diet is accessible for everyone.

In the report the Committee references a series of phone calls, facilitated by Sustain and Church Action on Poverty, where the secretariat spoke with individuals who have experienced food insecurity. These phone calls allowed people with lived experience to provide personal evidence for the inquiry and a summary of these conversations can be found in the report. 

The report also referred to a roundtable session organised by Sustain's Right to Food project with members of the House of Lords as well as civil society representatives. Over the course of the discussion, participants suggested that a ‘right to food’ could provide a benchmark in order to assess potentially negative effects of other policy decisions on food provision, and that it could set a basic and consistent norm that people (and particularly children) are entitled to food. Participants also suggested that it could act as an accountability framework to ensure that governments must fulfil certain minimum standards.

Some of the key recommendations that the the committee wants the Government "without delay" to implement are:

  • Start to measure how many people live with food insecurity, and analyse why;
  • Understand the cost of a healthy diet and incorporate this into benefits calculations;
  • Act to curb excessive advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods by the food industry;
  • Step up pressure on the food industry to reduce sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and calories in processed food, and introduce mandatory requirements where change has not happened;
  • Ensure that food initiatives for disadvantaged children, such as Healthy Start and free school meals are properly funded, implemented and monitored;
  • Use the opportunity of the Agriculture Bill to encourage production and consumption of healthier food and ensure that it delivers the public environmental goods it is designed to;
  • Establish an independent body to oversee the implementation of a National Food Strategy and report annually to Parliament on progress.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Krebs, said:

“Problems of diet and ill-health have been staring us in the face for decades, but successive Governments have done precious little about it.  While this affects everyone, people in poverty either can’t afford enough to eat or have unhealthy diets.”

“Many of Britain’s poorest families have little or no choice. They either go without food or buy unhealthy food because that’s what they can afford and get hold of.” 

“The Government knows about the problem. It’s time to stop the dither and delay, endless talking and consultation, and get on with it.”

Imogen Richmond-Bishop, Right to Food project coordinator, said:

"We know that far too many of us are unable to afford a healthy and sustainable diet and that this is having serious consequences not just on our health but also the health of our planet. This new report by the House of Lords Committee has just under 200 pages of detailed evidence on some of the biggest issues within our food system, from food production to food consumption. Helpfully, it also provides some of the responses that would alleviate or remedy these problems.

One key thing that shines through is the need for accountability as well as monitoring of how the Government is working to ensure that a healthy sustainable diet is accessible to all, and for this monitoring body to have teeth. Human rights provide a clear framework for monitoring progress and this is why incorporation of the Right to Food should form a key part of the response to the challenges within our food system."

Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign coordinator, said:

"The report is unequivocal in arguing that a healthy future for our children requires the current injustice of food insecurity and unhealthy food environments to be addressed in a holistic and integrated manner, so that healthy food is more affordable, available and appealing for all of us. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to launch the country's new plans to tackle obesity, he should take heed of this report's well-evidenced policy recommendations, from widening access to healthy school food throughout the year, to reducing junk food advertising, better nutritional labelling and using tax incentives for healthy food."

Sustain's written response to the inquiry can be found here

Published Monday 6 July 2020

Right to Food: Everyone has the right to enjoy safe, nutritious and sustainable food. This project advocates the realisation of the Right to Food in UK law.

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