In March I went to the Co-op Party conference on Common Decency #commondecency. We heard from inspirational campaigners and community activists.
Projects included one which works like a masterchef challenge, using random surplus fresh fruit and veg from supermarkets to cook up healthy nutritious meals for vulnerable and lonely people. Another works with the Mayor’s Fund in London to feed hungry children in school holidays. Co-operative housing groups set up and run fair rented housing. Of course, like the many food banks, homelessness charities and refugee support groups, all are delivering really worthwhile and highly valued services to people in need.
But the burning question at the heart of the conference was: is it right that in 21st century Britain, the sixth richest economy in the world, so many people should have to rely on volunteers and charity hand outs?
If we are to see common decency in our society, one answer could be to set in law a right to food. This is an idea I’ve been looking into as part of my work with Labour’s shadow environment team to develop a sustainable food policy. The SNP Scottish Government promised some years ago to legislate for such a right, but have so far failed to bring it forward. Now the Scottish Human Rights Commission is calling on them to put the human right to food into law to protect people from rising food insecurity, and for public authorities to address inequalities in people’s access to adequate food.
Rising food insecurity and hunger sit alongside increasing obesity and diabetes. The causes are complex, but it’s plain that our food system simply is not working for too many people.
So, together with the Co-op Party’s food justice campaign, Labour have launched a policy consultation on sustainable food through the national policy forum process. Some of the key questions on which we’d like input are below. Any member can make a submission at: https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/environment/a-sustainable-food-policy
And sign up to the Co-op Party’s food justice campaign here: https://party.coop/campaign/food-justice/
- Should we establish in law a universal right to healthy food?
- Or should we first prioritise the rights of access to healthy food for certain population groups, such as school children; expectant mothers; elderly and vulnerable people receiving care?
- Should there be a duty to provide food or should the duty be to avoid hunger, or malnutrition?
- Is there a need to review and reform land law and public land management systems in order to underpin a sustainable food system?
- What measures should we take first to ensure local food production is environmentally and economically sustainable?
- How can we best tackle food waste?
- What changes are needed to improve working conditions and safety in the food production and distribution industries?