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  • Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty

  • Patta Scott-Villiers, Research Fellow at Institute of Development Studies


Date: 13th October 2016



In 2008 and again in 2011, prices of basic staples soared. After 2012 prices began to fall for a while, but national food prices were often volatile and, in most cases, remained high.

For people in developing countries on low incomes, the global food crisis brought lasting changes to the work they did and the food they ate. Protests were loud, but there was also widespread acceptance of this new way of life. Right to food has become a right to earn money to pay for food and care.

The UK government committed to the right to food in international law when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976. However, under the UK constitution, international law doesn’t take effect until it is incorporated by legislation – and to date, this hasn’t happened.

Across the UK, increasing numbers of people in low waged and insecure jobs are struggling to afford food. If the right to food was enshrined in law, the government could be held to account over whether its policies fulfil its commitment to ensure all UK citizens have access to food.

The Right to Food requires governments to remove barriers that prevent citizens from accessing food. Some people point to foodbanks as a fulfilment of the government’s obligation. Others argue that until social safety nets are adequate enough that people can afford nutritious and culturally acceptable food of their own choosing, the government has not met its responsibilities.

Foodbanks are a sticking plaster that fails to address entrenched inequality, and should only ever be used as a temporary solution in an emergency. They must not replace the state’s duty to provide adequate and nutritious food.

If food banks aren’t the answer, how can we end hunger in the UK? We mustn’t be tempted to lower food prices, because that just pushes the problem along the food chain, depriving producers of a decent livelihood, and creating a cost-cutting environment that drives down wages, increases reliance on unsustainable inputs and is bad for the environment and human health.

Those are just the domestic challenges. More than two thirds of the land used for our food and feed consumption is outside the UK. This externalisation of environmental and social responsibility – with limited oversight – has serious consequences for the Right to Food, ranging from land-grabs to child labour.

Campaigning can create change, and one way is for MPs to hear the real stories of people who struggle to afford food. In Scotland, campaigners have been working with MPs to draw up a Bill that enshrines the Right to Food into Scottish law. If they are successful, it could pave the way for the UK government to follow suit.

The Right to Food is a fundamental human right. Here in the UK, we have to believe that we can make change happen, and ensure that every one of our citizens has access to nutritious, sustainable food.

This summary draws heavily on a blog written by Elli Kontorravdis of Nourish Scotland, for the Food Ethics Council. The full blog is available here

Further reading:

YouTube video, Church Action on Poverty, The right to food?

Hossain, N. and Scott-Villiers, P.(editors) Food Riots, Food Rights and the Politics of Provisions


Niall Cooper | Director of Church Action on Poverty

Niall has been the Director of Church Action on Poverty since 1997, a national ecumenical Christian social justice charity, fighting poverty in the UK. Centred around the values of justice and compassion, Church Action on Poverty works as a partnership of UK churches to tackle the root causes of poverty and deprivation.

Patta Scott-Villiers | Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies

Patta is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, affiliated with the University of Sussex. Her academic research concentrates on the local, national and international implications of political marginalisation, with a particular interest in East Africa. She is co-author of Food Riots, Food Rights and the Politics of Provisions (2019).