Our government is failing to uphold our human right to food

By Bernadette Meaden
January 12, 2016

Enough is enough. We can no longer tolerate families going hungry in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet. Their hunger is caused by government policy, and can be ended by government policy. We can no longer accept measures which result in people being denied their human right to food.

We can no longer accept welfare reforms that offer people harassment instead of help and sanctions instead of support. We cannot condemn hunger being used as a weapon of war abroad, whilst accepting it as a punishment for being late for a Jobcentre appointment here at home.

Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights says, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

And yet in this rich country, two million people are estimated to be malnourished, and three million at risk of becoming so. Churches across the country have opened food banks and handed out food parcels to literally hundreds of thousands of people at risk of going hungry in recent years - but emergency food aid cannot be a long-term solution. 

So a new movement is rising in the churches and beyond, that will say ‘enough is enough’ and call for urgent action to end the scandal of families going hungry in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet.

Church Action on Poverty Sunday - 7 February - will see the launch of a video which highlights the UK Government's duty under international human rights law to secure the human right to food for everyone in the UK. It will highlight the evidence that it is failing in that duty because of welfare reforms, benefit cuts and sanctions - and instead leaving it up to churches and charities to fill the gap. It will mark the start of a  food justice campaign which will challenge the government to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law.

The video will ask these key questions;

Is the state taking responsibility for our right to food?

How is it respecting, protecting and fulfilling that right?

Is it acting against its obligations with the introduction of benefit conditionality and sanctions?

What is the relationship between the state and the charities that provide emergency food?

Is anyone being held accountable?

If people knew they had a right to food, what difference would it make?

Martin, one of the narrators of the video, who has himself had to use a church-run food bank in Halifax to feed his family says,: "Welfare reforms such as sanctions and benefit caps, and low wages, leave many people with little or no money for food. If people knew that they had a right to food, imagine what a difference it could make."

So on 7 February, hundreds of churches are planning to highlight the issue, and raise funds for Church Action on Poverty's work, with soup lunches and special services exploring the theme of 'Bread Broken for All'. 

Church Action on Poverty Director Niall Cooper says: "I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people in churches across the country to the effect of 'I’ve got involved in my local food bank because people are going hungry – but in a wealthy country like ours I don’t think people should need to be going to a foodbank.' We invite anyone who feels this way to join us on 7 February, and break bread for all. Pray, give, and sign up to the campaign to end hunger in the UK."

Churches interested in taking part can download a resource pack, including prayers and preaching notes for Church Action on Poverty Sunday at www.church-poverty.org.uk/sunday

The Right to Food video is online at www.church-poverty.org.uk/righttofood



 © Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.