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The cost-of-living crisis is still very much with us in the UK. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the period 19 April – 1 May 2023, show that people in Great Britain still rate the cost-of-living crisis as the most important issue facing the UK today. Around 70% of adults reported their cost of living had increased compared with a month ago.

Even as energy bills are easing living standards pressures, surging food prices are doing the opposite, and this crisis is not hitting everyone equally.

But everyone has the right to adequate food.

High food prices here to stay

The good news: The Resolution Foundation notes that inflation is on the way down.  Energy prices will fall from July, though they are not expected to return to their pre-crisis level.

The bad news: The Resolution Foundation also warns that while food price inflation is expected to fall later this year, the level of food prices could continue rising into the summer.

ONS figures show that people are very aware of this shift. Around half of adults reported that they were worried about the cost of food (51%), which is slightly more than those who reported that they were worried about the cost of energy (48%). The most common reasons reported by adults who said their cost of living had increased compared with a month ago were an increase in the price of food shopping (97%), an increase in gas or electricity bills (73%), and an increase in the price of fuel (40%).

This crisis is not hitting everyone equally. One way in which people can protect themselves during financial crises is to change consumption patterns, for example by switching to alternative, cheaper brands. However, as noted by the Resolution Foundation, if you’re already buying cheaper brands you can’t switch to anything cheaper. That means the only option left is to eat less: 61 per cent of the poorest one-fifth of households report cutting back on food and other essentials compared to 35 per cent for the richest one-fifth

The right to food in the UK

As we noted in our blog on the right to food last year, it is time to bring the right to food home to everyone in the UK. With 7.2 million people in the UK going without essentials, we must ‘enshrine’ the right to food in our domestic legislation so that everyone has food that is adequate, available, accessible, and sustainable – for our generation and for generations to come. 

This is key to ensuring that everyone, particularly people living in households with lower incomes, do not have to go hungry when crises hit.

Where are different political parties currently at when it comes to the right to food?

  • We commend the Liberal Democrats for committing to enshrining the right to food in domestic legislation in 2019 and look forward to seeing this commitment contained in their manifesto for the next UK general election.
  • We also commend the Labour Party for passing a motion in support of embedding a right to food policy in their general election manifesto in 2021. However, we noted that details published of the party’s policy handbook (which is expected to form a blueprint for the party’s manifesto for the UK’s next general election) did not contain any mention of such a commitment (read more on our analysis of the handbook here).
  • The Scottish Government has set out proposals in its Human Rights Bill to incorporate the ICESCR right to adequate food into Scots Law which will be directly justiciable in the Scottish courts. (We’re expecting a consultation from the Scottish Government on this Bill next month, so watch this space to get involved!).

In the run up to the UK general election, we will continue to work with all parties to convince them of the need to include a commitment to the right to food in their manifestos, and go further, committing to incorporating all our economic, social and cultural rights in domestic law.

Take action now 

The right to food is already 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. 

This means that people can remind the UK Government of their obligation in their campaigning work and help hold them to account when they fail to meet it.

You can see an example of our work to hold the UK Government to account in our work with the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

But what can you do?

Talking about food as a human right is a powerful campaigning tool that you can use now. For example, if you’re writing a letter to a local MP about the rising use of foodbanks in your community, you could add in that the UK Government has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and so has an international obligation to uphold the right to food.

When you start talking about food as a human right, it changes the conversation. Some people avoid using food banks even when hungry because of a sense of shame and stigma.  But everyone has the right to adequate food.

If this right is not being met then it is not the hungry person who is to blame, but the duty bearer for that right.  This duty bearer could be the local authority, the UK Government or both – whoever has responsibility for realising the right. Talking about an issue in terms of human rights shifts the conversation away from it being an individual’s responsibility, to being the UK Government or local authority’s responsibility.

Take action

Background image by Jessica Frascht for Fine Acts