he proliferation of food banks across the UK this year indicates that our human right to food is sliding backwards, not forwards.
On Human Rights Day (December 10), Nourish Scotland’s CEO Pete Ritchie says it’s unacceptable that we can’t access our right to food in the UK. The UK is a signatory to the bundle of rights it belongs to, but our right to food has never been brought into law.
You can view the full interview here, and shorter clips are available below.
The Scottish Parliament, with devolved authority over human rights, has made a commitment to do so in the next Parliament through a new Human Rights Act.
“And this is a big change,” Pete Ritchie says. “You can only take the government to judicial review or to court if you’ve got a law that you can say they are breaking.
“If the right to food was in UK law at the moment, it would be possible to take judicial review against the Department of Work and Pensions for the way it reclaims people’s income levels. Because it’s not respecting and it’s not protecting the right to food.”
A large proportion of debt suffered by people using food banks is debt to the government, he says. “Thirty to forty percent of their entitlement, their social security, is being taken away to pay the government back and that’s leaving them in destitution.
“Under any version of human rights a government that is forcing people to become destitute by making them repay loans they can’t afford to pay is not upholding people’s rights.
“If our right to food was being met by our government there would be no food banks”
“Food banks are a wonderful expression of solidarity but they don’t substitute a rights based approach to food or a decent standard of living. What we didn’t do this year was reform some of the structures that push people into destitution.
“If our right to food was being met by our government there would be no food banks.”
The retail sector is praised for reducing waste by providing it to food banks, but this is actually just saving them the cost of sending that food to landfill.
“The dignity question is really profound here,” Mr Ritchie says. “Essentially we’re making people eat out of skips at the moment.
“We at Nourish don’t think that any form of food aid is dignified. It’s not dignified for people to have to choose second-hand food that’s come out of the back of a supermarket because that’s all that they can afford.
“It’s not acceptable in our culture that you simply have to eat whatever calories are given to you. We’d like to move toward a situation so nobody has to go to a food project.
“A dignified approach to food provision is you go to the shops and buy what you want like everybody else.
“We shouldn’t have got into the position [of more food banks and Marcus Rashford having to get involved in school meals during school holidays].
“From the outset we should have been thinking, how do we make sure that the economic turmoil doesn’t result in destitution and misery and increase the need for food banks, because this was completely predictable and completely avoidable.
“If you look purely in monetary terms, the amount for free school meals was minute. The amount to replace the food in food banks with supermarket vouchers or cash is minute in public expenditure terms.
“Viewing food as a right is an organising principle for how we run the food system. The food system is extraordinarily under-designed.
“It performs this logistical miracle of getting food to most of the people on the planet three times a day. That’s really impressive.
“At the same time it’s not really designed to nourish people and it’s not designed to look after the planet. Re-purposing the food system to deliver on the right to food would work for farmers, businesses, governments, and the planet and people.
“As an organising principle for how we try to do food in the 21st century it’s a really useful starting point. A rights-based approach to law in England will make for better policy.
“At the moment a lot of our policy, particularly when it comes to food banks and charities is not well thought through. The universal right to food needs to match that of health or education.
“With food we’ve thought it’s okay to have a two-tier system where people who can afford to eat well live longer and enjoy life more and have choice. And people who can’t afford to eat well have to go to a church hall on a Tuesday afternoon to get the food that other people have decided is what they need. It’s not on. It’s not a way to run a country.”
View our video clips of this interview:
- How do I access my right to food?
- Why does our right to food have to be enshrined in law?
- Why is Scotland getting the right to food and not England?
- How do you explain the outpouring of support for footballer Marcus Rashford on making sure children receive meals during school holiday?
- What difference would the right to food make for us in practical terms?
- Explain the idea of dignity at the heart of food provision
- What would be the greatest difference if we had the right to food?
- It sounds as though big business agrees with you
- Would a rights-based approach to food change the way businesses operate?
- It sounds as though business needs government to regulate, to allow them to do the right thing
- Why has Nourish Scotland been working so hard at this?