The UK is taking some action on access to healthy food. But unfortunately the UK has not yet incorporated the Right to Food into UK law.
Our government is under under no legal obligation to implement policies to ensure that no-one will go hungry, nor to ensure that our food supply is healthy, reliable, sustainable and accessible to all. Nor are they required to have a coherent strategy to reduce hunger and tackle food poverty.
'Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland* CESRC 2016:
Paragraph 53: "The Committee is concerned about the lack of adequate measures adopted by the State party to address the increasing levels of food insecurity, malnutrition, including obesity, and the lack of adequate measures to reduce the reliance on food banks. The Committee is also concerned about the lack of adequate measures adopted to increase the rates of breastfeeding."
However, our government has taken some steps that could be seen as upholding our right to food. For example, by introducing:
- a national minimum wage, which has increased incomes for people in work
- some action to reduce costs and the 'poverty premium' that people on a lower income pay for essential services such as electricity (due to their inability to pay bills in advance or on Direct Debit, hence losing out on discounts)
- the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (sugary drinks tax), reducing unhealthy sugar consumption and providing funds to pay for school breakfast clubs
- nutrition standards for school meals and free school meals for younger children
- protection of children from junk food advertising and marketing
- a recent promise to fund pilots of projects tackling holiday hunger for children living in low-income households
Conversely, our government has unfortunately taken some steps that undermine the Right to Food, such as changes to the benefits system, reducing the number of families entitled to free school meals, reduction of funding to the local authorities (and hence services such as meals on wheels) that support local people, and patchy support for the production and distribution of healthy and affordable fruit and vegetables.
At a local level, many cities, local authorities and food poverty partnerships are developing strategies to tackle food poverty. However, many are not. And even those communities who are taking valiant action have no powers to address national issues that are barriers to enjoyment of the Right to Food.
To end hunger and food poverty in the UK, we need a concerted and joined-up approach, with a clear allocation of tasks for policy-makers and service providers, adequate resources, secured within a legal framework that allocates responsibilities and provides full accountability.
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