In the UK there is no shortage of food, yet thousands of people are going hungry. Children arrive in school unfed, adults regularly miss meals, and the disabled are hit particularly hard. There are more than 2,000 food banks, compared to just 20 in 2009. Britain’s biggest food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, gave out over 1.6 million emergency food parcels last year. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ashamed that they need to seek help, many people survive on insufficient food for months before turning to food banks.
This crisis of hunger results from deliberate political choices. Since 2010 government has slashed the welfare safety net – freezing and capping benefits, implementing a harsh and unfair sanctions regime, and introducing Universal Credit, where claimants have to wait five weeks, sometimes longer, for their first payment. Children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of these policies: almost a third now live in poverty.
Everyone has the right to access good-quality food, regardless of income.
As Labour Party members and supporters, we stand in solidarity with people experiencing food poverty in Britain. We know that only a Labour government will tackle poverty and inequality – the root causes of hunger. But while these cannot be resolved immediately, hunger must be. We want an emergency plan put in place to tackle hunger from the first day of a Labour government. This must be backed up by an ambitious strategy to eliminate food poverty entirely – based on the right to food, a living wage and social justice. The voluntary response to food poverty has been magnificent but food waste is not the solution and charities cannot and should not do the work of government. We urge you to join us in fighting food poverty in the UK and campaigning for a just and compassionate welfare system.
A Labour Charter on Hunger
In 2015 and 2017 there were no pledges on food poverty in the Labour manifesto. We urge the Labour Party to include in its next manifesto a Charter on Hunger consisting of the measures outlined below, and to pledge that, under a Labour government, everyone will have access to nutritious food, acquired by socially acceptable means. We want a Britain where no one goes to bed hungry.
In Opposition, Labour will:
1. Require all Labour councils to have a Food Poverty Action Plan in place.
2. Working with food poverty charities, develop a strategy that will provide immediate hunger relief to vulnerable groups as soon as a Labour government is elected.
3. Appoint a Shadow Minister for Household Food Security, with responsibility for the areas outlined in Number 5 below.
A Labour government will:
1. Axe the current five-week wait for Universal Credit and pause the roll-out.
2. Lift the freeze on benefits, uprating them in line with the cost of living.
3. Restore the link between need and provision in the welfare system, by abolishing the benefit cap and the two-child limit.
4. Abolish sanctions on sick or disabled people, people in work, and all sanctions on the unemployed except those related to traditional insurance conditions (such as leaving a job voluntarily without good reason, or refusing to accept a suitable job). Even then, people must still be entitled to an income sufficient to prevent destitution.
5. Appoint a Minister for Household Food Security to coordinate the policy response to food poverty across government departments. The Minister must ensure that government fulfils the Right to Food enshrined in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
6. Work with food poverty charities to provide immediate hunger relief for vulnerable groups, funding this as necessary, and introduce a target to eliminate completely the need for food banks.
7. Introduce free school meals for all primary-school children.
8. Increase the free school meals allowance for secondary schools to a minimum of £4 per day, and allow it to be used at any time of day and carried over between days.
9. Give local councils a statutory duty to provide wraparound holiday care for primary school children that includes meals, and provide ringfenced funding for this – as outlined in Frank Field’s draft School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill.
10. Launch a campaign to remove the stigma around claiming benefits, including free school meals. This will include the promotion of a positive vision of the welfare state, one that points out that we all benefit from state support, be it parental leave, healthcare, pensions or education. To tackle the demonisation of benefits claimants, Labour will consider classifying attacks on them as hate crime.
11. Enshrine a definition of household food insecurity in law and set government targets to eliminate it. The definition will encompass not just the inability to afford food but the inability to afford, or have access to, a healthy diet.
12. Ensure that the welfare state functions as the frontline against destitution once more by giving the Department for Work and Pensions a statutory responsibility to prevent destitution, including a duty to seek out those at risk and provide appropriate support.. Any elements of conditionality that are retained in the welfare system must never again be allowed to leave people without the means to support themselves.
13. Raise the minimum wage to a Living Wage, in consultation with the Living Wage Foundation.