Closed petition Make access to food a legal right - no one in the UK should go hungry

Putting the “Right to Food” into UK law would make the Government legally responsible to help anyone in our communities who in going hungry, to take action to prevent barriers in accessing food and to take steps to tackle the crisis of food insecurity in the UK which is effecting 10 million people.

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We currently lack a legal mechanism for enforcing the basic right to food. Legislation enshrining this right would set out tasks and responsibilities for the wide range of public bodies that would need to take action to ensure everyone has access to essential foodstuffs. This could include requiring measures to improve people's incomes (such as requiring a Living Wage), control everyday costs (such as utility bills), and improve access to good food (such as free school meals).

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Government responded

This response was given on 20 April 2021

The UK recognises the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including a right to food, and remains committed to fulfilling our obligations in this respect.

Read the response in full

The Government has been giving effect to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights through a combination of legislation and administrative measures, with the aim of progressively achieving the full realisation of the rights recognised in the Covenant. The Covenant is not, however, incorporated into domestic law, and Article 2 of the Covenant does not require States Parties to do so. The Government considers that its method of implementation of the Covenant fulfils the UK’s obligations under Article 2(1).

Tackling poverty in all its forms is a key priority for this Government. We are committed to helping people with the cost of living and providing a safety net for those that need it through our well-established social security systems. The level of support that this Government has put in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic such as the Winter Grant and furlough scheme reflect this.

The Government has already commissioned an independent review of the food system, led by Henry Dimbleby, which will inform the Government’s new Food Strategy. Part One of Henry Dimbleby's report was published on 29 July 2020 and contained recommendations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and preceding the end of the transition period. Several of these recommendations were aimed at addressing food insecurity, including the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme and increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers, which the Government has already acted on as detailed below.

Part Two of the review is due to be published in the summer. It will include a root and branch examination of the food system and the economics that shape it. Part Two of the review will also contain further recommendations for the Government that we will follow up with a White Paper. Having already taken steps to adopt some of the recommendations from the first report, it is right that we consider carefully all further recommendations from this review before taking additional action.

This Government is wholly committed to supporting people on lower incomes, paying out more than £100 billion in welfare support for people of working age this year, and consistently supporting the lowest-paid families, including through increasing the living wage. Even before the pandemic, we had increased working age benefits by 1.7% and overall benefit spending by around £5 billion in 2021/21.

Throughout the pandemic, the Government has sought to protect jobs and incomes. This includes through the furlough scheme, which has now been extended until September 2021, and by spending billions on strengthening welfare support and ensuring the most vulnerable can meet their basic needs. This additional support includes increases to the Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit standard allowances of up to £1,040 this financial year, and uplifts to the Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents.

The COVID-19 Winter Grant Scheme builds on that support with an additional £170 million for local authorities in England to support families with children and other vulnerable people with the cost of food and essential utilities this winter. This builds on the £63 million allocated to English local authorities last summer.

Devolved administrations have received equivalent funding through the upfront funding guarantee provided, which was recently increased to £16 billion for the year to support their COVID-19 response. The Government has also made available a further £16 million to the food redistributor FareShare to work with local charities across England to provide food for those struggling due to the immediate impacts of the pandemic.

The Holiday Activities and Food programme, which has provided healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children since 2018, is also being expanded across England to cover Easter, summer and Christmas in 2021. Healthy Start scheme payments are set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021. This scheme supports pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

This Government has long championed the principle of work as the best route out of poverty and towards financial independence. Our plans for getting parents back to work and supporting them to progress are, therefore, at the heart of our approach to tackling poverty and levelling up across all parts of the UK. The Government is investing billions in our new Plan for Jobs, including our £2 billion Kickstart Scheme which is already creating thousands of high-quality jobs for young people, and our £2.9 billion Restart programme to provide intensive employment support for over one million unemployed people. The Government has also boosted our Flexible Support Fund by £150 million to provide localised, tailored support across the UK and we are doubling the number of frontline Work Coaches to help people to find work, retrain or gain practical experience.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/562838)

Other parliamentary business

Original Government response

Tackling poverty in all forms is a key priority for this Government. We have provided an unprecedented level of support over the past year to protect the most vulnerable through the COVID-19 pandemic.

This Government is committed to supporting people on lower incomes, paying out over £100 billion in welfare support for people of working age this year, and consistently supporting the lowest-paid families including through increasing the living wage. Even before COVID-19, we increased working age benefits by 1.7% and overall benefit spending by around £5 billion in 2020/21.

Throughout this pandemic we have taken unprecedented action backed by £280 billion to support and protect jobs and incomes, including through the furlough scheme, extended until April 2021, and provided over £7 billion to strengthen welfare support, ensuring the most vulnerable can meet their basic needs. This support includes increases to the Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit standard allowances of up to £1040 this financial year, and uplifts to the Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents.

HM Treasury published distributional analysis (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/impact-of-covid-19-on-working-household-incomes-distributional-analysis-as-of-may-2020) of COVID-19’s impact on working households in July, showing the actions this Government had taken to date have supported poorest working households the most, with those in the bottom 10% of the income distribution seeing no income reduction.

The COVID-19 Winter Grant Scheme provides £170 million for local authorities (LAs) in England to support families with children and other vulnerable people with the cost of food and essential utilities. This builds on the £63 million allocated to English LAs last Summer. Devolved Administrations received equivalent funding through the upfront funding guarantee provided, which was increased to £16 billion for the year to support their COVID-19 response. We have also made available £16 million to the food redistributor FareShare to work with local charities across England to provide food for those struggling due to the immediate impacts of COVID-19.

The Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme has provided healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children since 2018, and is being expanded across England to cover Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021. Healthy Start scheme payments are also set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021. This scheme supports pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

From 18 January, schools can order free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils through the Government’s national scheme, adding to support available for disadvantaged families during the national lockdown. An online service allows schools to place orders for supermarket gift cards on behalf of parents and carers whose children are eligible for free school meals. The scheme supplier Edenred reported that by the end of 25 February, 106,500 orders had been placed by schools and more than £77 million eCodes had been redeemed into supermarket gift cards for families.

The Government champions the principle of work as the best route out of poverty and towards financial independence. Plans to get parents back to work and supporting them to progress are at the heart of the approach to tackle poverty and level up across the UK. We are investing billions in our new Plan for Jobs including our £2 billion Kickstart scheme which creates thousands of jobs for young people, and our £2.9 billion Restart programme to provide intensive employment support for over 1 million unemployed people. We have also boosted our Flexible Support Fund by £150 million to provide localised, tailored support across the UK and are doubling the number of frontline Work Coaches to help people find work, re-train, or gain practical experience.

We have commissioned an independent review of the food system, led by Henry Dimbleby, which will inform the Government’s upcoming Food Strategy White Paper. Part 1 of the independent report, published on 29 July 2020, contained recommendations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and preceding the end of the transition period. Several of these recommendations were aimed to address food insecurity, including the expansion of the HAF programme and increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers, which the Government has already acted on.

Part Two of the independent review will be published later this year. It will include a root and branch examination of the food system and the economics that shape it, and contain further recommendations for the Government to consider.

We have taken steps to ensure people have access to healthy and nutritious food. In July 2020, the Government released its Obesity strategy, announcing policies to empower people to make healthier choices and give the full support of the NHS to people who are overweight and want to lose weight. In addition, the Eatwell Guide provides a visual representation of the Government’s recommendations on a healthy balanced diet.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This response was given on 1 March 2021. The Petitions Committee then requested a revised response, that more directly addressed the request of the petition.

MPs debate support for children eligible for free school meals

MPs debated support for children entitled to free school meals on Wednesday 26 May in Westminster Hall.

This was a general debate. General debates allow MPs to debate important issues, however they do not end in a vote nor can they change the law.

Watch the debate back:
https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/5068d0e3-e938-4093-9b77-520982bf0db2?in=14:30:09&out=15:45:33

You can also read a transcript of the debate:
https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-05-26/debates/21052612000001/SupportForChildrenEntitledToFreeSchoolMeals

You can also now watch back, and read the transcript of, the Petitions Committee's debate on the e-petition 'End child food poverty - no child should be going hungry', which was held on Monday 24 May.
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554276#debate-threshold

Find out more about how Parliamentary debates work:
https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/debates/