UN official tells UK that foodbank growth is human rights issue

By staff writers
February 18, 2013

The dramatic rise in people forced to rely on foodbanks in the UK could represent a human rights abuse, a top United Nations official will warn today (18 February 2013).

Food poverty in Britain has been signalled by a tenfold increase in the use of foodbanks since the start of the recession.

Now Olivier de Schutter, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who in 2012 condemned the Canadian government for failing to ensure food security for thousands of its citizens, will tackled Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition on the same issue.

Mr de Schutter is set to remind the UK Government of its “duty to protect” in the matter the established human right to basic nutrition.

“The right to an adequate diet is required under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IESCR),” Mr de Schutter told The Independent newspaper yesterday.

He continued: “What I looked at in Canada and what I shall commence upon in the UK is the idea that governments have a responsibility in ensuring adequate diets.”

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IESCR) says that people should be able to afford an adequate amount of food without having to compromise other basic needs.

Mr de Schutter is concerned that “the failure of social policies” and austerity policies in wealthy countries has created growing inequalities which imperil the security and rights of some of their poorest citizens.

UN protocol forbids the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from commenting specifically on the UK government's response to food poverty before a formal investigation ihas been launched.

But he is able to point to the rise of foodbanks in rich countries as evidence that governments may have neglected their “responsibility not to leave the poorest behind”.

Mr Chris Mould, chair of the Trussell Trust, which now operates more than 300 foodbanks across the UK, is sharing a platform with Mr de Schutter at a lceture hosted by Just Fair in London today, where the UN official will speak on 'Freedom from hunger.'

Mr Mould says government policies and cuts are bringing “substantial additional pressures” to people living on the breadline, and that some 250,000 food parcels may be needed to stop people going hungry in 2013.

“We are about to see the collected and combined impact of a series of policy decisions coming from the 2012 budget and the implementation of the the Welfare Reform Act, which will particularly impact people who are already vulnerable and on low incomes,” declared Mr Mould.

“We see the reality of food poverty day in and day out in food banks across the country. We see it and we're often shocked by the depth of difficulty people face,” he concluded.

Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly refused requests to visit foodbanks and to meet with their users face-to-face.

He has also brushed aside the issue of hunger, choosing instead to see foodbanks as a positive sign of his 'Big Society', where volunteers are meant to fill in for cuts in public services.

* International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm

* UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food: http://www.srfood.org/

* 'Freedom from hunger: realising the right to food in the UK': http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18026

* Trussell Trust: http://www.trusselltrust.org/

* Just Fair: http://just-fair.co.uk/


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