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UK National Food Strategy Has Game-Changing Potential

Proposals to Tackle Inequality Can Help Advance Right to Food

Students eat lunch at Chertsey High School on March 09, 2021 in Chertsey, United Kingdom.  © 2021 Dan Kitwood/Getty

A major independent review of the United Kingdom’s food systems has underscored the deep inequality around access to nutritious food in the country.

The National Food Strategy makes clear recommendations on using food policy to help tackle socioeconomic inequality. If implemented, the proposals could help UK authorities make progress towards securing the right to food for everyone.

Three of the report’s recommendations stand out:

First, widening the eligibility threshold for children to qualify for free school meals, including for children whose immigration status currently excludes them from eligibility. The report estimates that, if implemented, 82 per cent of children from households with “very low food security” will get free school meals. That’s a big change, nearly half of food-insecure families in the UK do not currently qualify.

Second, a long-term scheme for holiday food provision for children who get free school meals rather than the patchy, annually renewed projects currently in place. This can help ensure that children from low-income families who lack money to provide food do not go hungry during school holidays.

Third, extending the Healthy Start scheme, which provides a modest food subsidy to pregnant people and families with young children.

The report also makes important recommendations around the handling of food-related data, including on food insecurity, to allow better informed policy.

The recommendations align with conclusions of Human Rights Watch’s research on how a decade of welfare cuts and social security policy changes in the UK increased reliance on food banks in ways that jeopardized the right to food, and how Covid-19 pandemic school closures further exacerbated food insecurity for children from families on low incomes. We supported grassroots campaigns to get the right to food put into UK law and underscore the government’s duty to ensure its policies do not leave families going hungry.

While the National Food Strategy does not explicitly call for a right to food, implementing its recommendations can help put the right to food into practice.

The strategy’s concrete policy proposals precede upcoming legislation in a Good Food Bill, and follow the important call by a UK parliamentary oversight committee for the government to ensure a wide consultation on putting the right to food into domestic law.

Bringing together these initiatives can help make the right to food real for the many in the UK who struggle to get enough healthy, nutritious food to eat.

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