Nadia on... The Right to Food

Words: Nadia Whittome
Photos: Fabrice Gagos
Sunday 13 August 2023
reading time: min, words

Our regular columnist and Nottingham East MP tackles an important topic during the cost of living crisis...

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When you go to the supermarket, do you ever stare at the prices in disbelief, wondering when everything got so expensive?

If yes, you’re far from the only one. The cost of groceries is soaring at the fastest rate in 45 years, with average prices increasing by over seventeen percent in one year. In the context of stagnating wages and sky-high bills, it’s no wonder that more and more families are struggling to put food on the table, with 5.7 million households cutting down or skipping meals.

Even before the current crisis, food insecurity in the UK was on the rise, fuelled by low pay and public spending cuts. Nothing illustrates it more starkly than the astonishing rise of food banks. In 2010, Trussell Trust - the UK’s biggest network of food banks - distributed around 60,000 parcels. By 2015, that figure had reached one million. Last year, almost three million parcels were given out, and many food banks struggled to keep up with rising demand.

The consequences of growing deprivation are disturbing. The number of people in England hospitalised with malnutrition has quadrupled in fifteen years, reaching nearly 11,000 last year. Cases of scurvy tripled to 171, and 482 patients, mostly children, were admitted with rickets - diseases that we should have left behind in the Victorian era.

In the sixth biggest economy in the world, there is no excuse for this - or for anyone to be going hungry at all. Food poverty is not inevitable, and neither is it the result of poor budgeting by individuals. It’s a consequence of political decisions, and the solutions are political too.

Firstly, as a matter of emergency, the government should step in to stop runaway food inflation. Rising prices have several causes, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the climate crisis. But an often overlooked one is the phenomenon of “greedflation” - companies using economic chaos as an excuse to charge us more. 

Research by Unite the Union has shown that of the UK’s 350 biggest companies increased their profit margins by an average of 89 percent in three years. Three large supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, have doubled their profits since 2019. As an immediate solution, temporary price controls on essentials could stop this profiteering and help ensure that our weekly shop doesn’t put us out of pocket. In Europe, Croatia and Hungary have capped prices on key products, Greece introduced a limit on profit margins and the French government reached a deal with food companies to lower prices. The UK could learn from these examples.

In the longer term, we need a comprehensive strategy to make sure that no one goes hungry. The Right to Food campaign, led by Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne, has been calling for access to food to be a right enshrined in law, requiring the government to finally take real action on food poverty.

Food poverty is not inevitable, and neither is it the result of poor budgeting by individuals. It’s a consequence of political decisions, and the solutions are political too

A good place to start would be giving every child access to warm, nutritious meals at school. As the cost of living crisis deepens, teachers have been raising alarm about the growing number of pupils coming to school hungry, which in turn affects their ability to learn. For many, free school meals are a lifeline. But many others whose families are struggling, currently don’t qualify for them. To prevent kids falling through the cracks, and remove the stigma often associated with free school meals, they should be available to all.

What’s more, Marcus Rashford was right: children need to eat all year round, not just during term time. The lack of free lunches during holidays puts more financial pressures on parents, forcing many to go without to feed their kids. I’m really glad that our City Council is addressing this by offering food vouchers over the holidays to students who get free school meals. This policy should be rolled out across the country - not just during the current crisis, but permanently.

Children aren’t the only ones who need access to healthy and filling meals. That’s why the Right to Food campaign is also advocating for the government to fund community kitchens and “meals on wheels” programmes for elderly and disabled people. Publicly funded cookery clubs could help fight loneliness while tackling hunger at the same time.

However, to really address the crisis of food poverty, we must also tackle its root causes. Low pay, skyrocketing rent and energy bills, benefit sanctions and the two-child benefit cap all contribute to people struggling to pay for food. Increasing the minimum wage to reflect the real cost of living, introducing rent controls and reforming the benefit system to provide a real safety net would help end the scandal of millions relying on food banks to survive. A country with 2.85 million millionaires can afford to ensure that everyone is fed.

Meanwhile, I want to give a huge shout out to every charity, local business and volunteer in Nottingham who is working to support people experiencing food insecurity. Food banks, like those run by Himmah, St Ann’s Advice Centre or the Refugee Forum, have been distributing parcels to those in need. Community kitchens, such as Salaam Shalom Kitchen, The Open Kitchen or the Social Cafe organised by the SFiCe Foundation, serve free meals while bringing people together. Foodprint, a social supermarked based in Sneinton, sells at discounted rates food that would otherwise go to waste. (For a full list of local services and initiatives supporting people during the cost of living crisis, check out the super helpful portal

In 21st century Britain, food poverty shouldn’t exist. But as long as it does, your compassion and solidarity is priceless.

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