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Right to Food

We have been campaigning for the legal recognition of the right to food in domestic law since our inception in 2011. We produce expert research on international human rights law standards pertaining to the right to food, and engage in international human rights treaty body mechanisms which review the UK State’s legal obligations relating to the right to food. At the domestic level, we urge the UK Government to provide access to food, including free school meals, and engage in UK Parliamentary scrutiny of food insecurity. 

What is the right to food?

The UK Government is legally required under international human rights law to secure the human right to adequate food for everyone in the UK. But in recent years we have seen large increases in the levels of malnutrition, hunger and food bank usage, all of which are indicative of the UK being in breach of its international legal obligations in respect of the right to food.

Legal obligations

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is an international treaty which aims to ensure the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security, health and education. Article 11(1) of the treaty recognises the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. Article 11(2) guarantees the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, and obliges State Parties (i.e. those countries that have voluntarily agreed to be bound by the treaty) to take steps in this regard, including the improvement of methods of distribution of food, and dissemination of knowledge concerning the principles of nutrition.

The UK has ratified, and is therefore legally bound by, the ICESCR, including the human right to adequate food. As a party to the treaty, the UK reports on its compliance with the treaty on a five yearly basis regarding implementation of the ICESCR in the UK, in what is known as a process of periodic review. The UK will submit the state report for the purposes of its seventh periodic review by UN experts, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


How do human rights experts define the right to food?

According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN Committee/CESCR), the right to adequate food is realized when “every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.” 

According to international human rights standards, food must be available in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy dietary needs, with nutrients for physical and mental growth, free from adverse substances and culturally acceptable. Still, we are seeing evidence of inadequate food provision to families with low or no-income.

Even in times of crisis, the UK Government has a duty to ensure physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. And accessibility of food must be sustainable and not interfere with the enjoyment of other human rights, such as the right to education or health.

Free school meals and the right to food

Letter to Boris Jonson PM and Gavin Williamson MP

On 14 January 2021, we sent a letter to Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Education, joining Marcus Rashford MBE, Jamie Oliver MBE, Dame Emma Thompson, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, charities and campaigners to express our concern over the Free School Meals policy.

We encourage the UK Government to undertake an urgent comprehensive review of Free School Meal policy to reform the system for the longer term.

It is only by working together that we can end child food poverty. The process will require collaboration from politicians in all the devolved nations with responsibility for school food in their regions, and must involve close consultation with children and young people, as well as teachers, charities, NGOs, frontline catering staff and school meals service providers.

We are ready and willing to support the UK Government to uphold its international human rights obligations and ensure enjoyment of economic and social rights, which include the right to health, education and food.



Click here to read the full letter, which was coordinated by The Food Foundation.

Legal action

After civil society campaigning, including the threat of legal action by Just Fair’s Chair of trustees, the UK Government u-turns, announcing a £120 million “Covid Summer School Fund” to support children in England over the summer holiday 2020.

Read more here and listen to Just Fair speaking about holiday hunger on the RightsCast Podcast here

Letter to Gavin Williamson MP

Children eating from their lunchboxes which have fruit and sandwiches

Urgent changes needed to the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to some “No Recourse to Public Funds” groups. We wrote to Gavin Williamson MP over concerns regarding the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to No Recourse to Public Funds groups.

Read more here.

No Recourse to Public Funds

boy playing with toy blocks

Free School Meal support extended to include thousands of children in families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

Read more here.

Coronavirus Food Voucher Reform

Children Will Go Hungry Without Coronavirus Food Voucher Reform. There are families who are not eligible for free school meals. And food is not just about the ingredients; it’s also about the electricity used to keep the fridge running to keep food stored safely, the gas used to cook it, and the bus fare to get to the shops in the first place.

Read more here.

Right to food report

This report was produced by Just Fair Consortium which works to realise a fairer and more just society for everyone in the UK by monitoring and securing the fundamental human rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), including the rights to food. This report informed Just Fair’s submission to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights review of the UK State’s obligations under ICESCR. 

For more information on our Right to Food research and campaigning please get in touch ‘[email protected]‘.