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Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

This week, MPs on the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a new report on food insecurity, backed by harrowing data from the Food Foundation that shows around 1 in 10 households suffered from food poverty during the pandemic.

The report underlines what we’ve long known: the Government needs to do more to tackle food poverty, and sustain the efforts made during the pandemic to tackle the growing hunger crisis.

Our Party and movement have long been tackling these issues as part of our Food Justice campaign, and many of the reports recommendations align with our key campaign asks – such as introducing a Right to Food. What’s more, the public agrees: polling we commissioned shows that 75% of the public back the introduction of a Right to Food too.

The EFRA report well highlights both the challenges and potential benefits of a Right to Food, noting:

“We agree that enshrining principles in law is not a “silver bullet”, however, giving the “right to food” a legislative footing would drive action on food insecurity across Whitehall and Government. We therefore recommend that the Government should consult on how a “right to food” could be implemented in England as part of its White Paper following the publication of the National Food Strategy.”

While the report focuses on how a Right to Food could be implemented in England, we’ve already made steps to introduce a Right to Food in Scots Law. A good result in the upcoming Scottish elections will allow our Scottish Co-op MSPs to once again fight for a Right to Food in the next Scottish Parliament.

The report also echoes our criticisms of Government for dragging its feet on collecting data on food insecurity. As the report says, in the absence of “proper data, we cannot take action on the scale required and targeted at those in greatest need”. We therefore welcome the recommendation that the food security report under the Agriculture Act should contain up-to-date data on the scale of food insecurity.

We’ve seen at a local level that when a single person has responsibility for food security, they can mobilise and drive change across departments. This has been the success of our Food Justice Finder campaign in local government, which has doubled the number of lead members for food security or “Food Champions” in councils across the UK. Some positive results are already emerging, with councils with Food Champions reporting a higher rate of Healthy Start voucher uptake. That’s why we’ve called for the same approach in Westminster, with a national Minister for Ending Hunger. The report agrees, recommending that Government create a Minister for Food Security – noting that during the pandemic that Ministers had successfully mobilised their departments to support vulnerable people’s access to food. This effort gives a sense of what could be achieved in more normal times were robust structures and incentives in place.

The report rightly recognises the great work that FareShare and other charities have done in supporting communities facing the brunt of the pandemic. FareShare and others have been generously supported by the co-operative movement across the UK as part of their commitment to food justice, and the report encourages Government to help fund such work. Ongoing funding would be very welcome, but even without it, a growing number of Food Partnerships and Food Champions are helping to drive the work locally – demonstrating that whilst we do need a fundamental rebalancing of the economy, we are not powerless to help in the absence of Government support.

In the 6th richest nation in the world, it is nothing less than a horrific indictment of our country that, as the report reveals, nearly 6 million people experienced food poverty in the past six months. We will continue to push the Government, as this report does, to step up on food security. But we also don’t need to wait for Government action to make change in our communities. Join the Food Justice campaign and together, we can help end hunger.