Party promises fall short on tackling UK food poverty

Earlier today, the Trussell Trust announced that they had provided over one million people with emergency food aid in 2014-15 (http://www.trusselltrust.org/stats, accessed 22 April 2015). With the General Election only a couple of weeks away, this startling statistic prompted me to review what the major party manifestos had to say about food poverty which has become a major issue in recent years.

While the Conservative Party manifesto talks about championing farmers and food producers, the only mention of food poverty is in relation to the role of churches, faith groups and other voluntary organizations ‘maintaining the country’s social fabric’.

The Liberal Democrats refer to the need to improve access to healthy food and reduce food waste, pledging to introduce a National Food Strategy which will promote healthy, sustainable and affordable food.

The Labour Party acknowledges the growing demand for food aid, linking the rising demand for food banks to the 5 million people in low-paid jobs, earning less than the Living Wage. But their only specific commitment in this area is to renew their pledge not to extend VAT to food.

The Green Party include more substantial discussion of food issues, including the suggestion that the outsourcing of care to charities and food banks is a sign of a failed society. They ask the electorate to imagine a future in which food banks go out of business, with more emphasis on local food and a moratorium on GM food and feed. They also support a subsidy for fresh fruit and vegetables and a tax on ‘unhealthy’ food.

The Scottish National Party is alone in making specific commitments to tackling food poverty, linking the funding of this pledge to the party’s opposition to reinvesting in the UK’s Trident missile programme.

None of the main parties acknowledge that access to adequate food is a human right according to the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was ratified by the UK in 1976. Rather than relying on the vagaries of charitable donations, provided by volunteer labour and subject to social stigma, the Covenant seeks to guarantee people the right to regular, permanent and unrestricted access to adequate and sufficient food corresponding to their cultural traditions (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx, accessed 22 April 2015). The case for approaching food as a basic human right is set out in Riches and Silvasti’s First World Hunger Revisited (2014) which includes evidence from many countries including the UK. Meeting these obligations has not yet been adequately addressed by any of the main political parties.

Peter Jackson, Professor of Human Geography

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