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During the festive season many of us will be thinking about the food that we will be eating to mark the holidays we celebrate. The festive season also calls on us to think about those who are going without and struggling to afford essentials like food.  

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) latest cost-of-living tracker is deeply distressing reading. 7.2 million households are going without essentials. This means that they have reported going hungry, or cutting down the size of meals or skipping meals in the last 30 days, or going without basics like showers or adequate clothing.  Over a third of low-income families with children are cutting back on food for their children. As JRF note, this is a last resort and something you’re forced into, not something you choose. 

It is important to remember that charitable efforts can provide crucial lifelines to people who are struggling, but they are not the solution. In recognition, the Trussell Trust specifically campaigns to end the need for foodbanks in the UK.  

It is also important to remember that individuals who are struggling are not to blame for what is happening to them. When people find themselves in situations where the income they receive for the work they do is insufficient to cover their needs, or the financial support they receive from the state leaves them turning to paramilitary moneylenders to survive – it is the system that is failing. 

We support calls for the UK Government to take urgent action. In their latest briefing, JRF recommends that the UK Government provides additional cost-of-living payments, unfreezes Local Housing Allowance and stops unaffordable debt collection practices pursued by its own departments.    

We also support initiatives such as the proposed Free School Meals Bill as an important step towards a country where children don’t go hungry, but we also believe that a longer-term solution is not only available, it is necessary.  

It is time to bring the right to food home to everyone in the UK. It is time to ‘enshrine’ the right to food in our domestic legislation so that everyone has food that is adequate, available, and accessible. 

The right to food is protected in international law by Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which the UK Government has signed, ratified and agreed to be legally bound by.  

However, while these rights are binding in international law, we can’t currently take the UK Government or devolved governments to court if our rights are violated because we don’t have these rights in our domestic laws across the UK.   

So, the crucial missing step is the incorporation of economic, social, and cultural rights – including the right to food – into domestic law. If these rights were incorporated into domestic law, the UK Government would have to act to protect people and if they didn’t, we could (as a matter of last resort) take legal action.   Read our recent blog on this here. 

Access to decent, nutritional food impacts all aspects of life.  We must take action now to protect the right to food in the UK.  

For more information on the right to food – check out this excellent short video from Nourish Scotland and the Scottish Human Right Commission.  

Image by Benedetta Manfredi