In recent years the UK has seen a sharp rise in the numbers of its citizens relying on food banks but a leading United Nations official has warned today that such reliance could become a human rights issue.
As the UK’s Conservative led coalition government strives to reduce public expenditure, cuts in the welfare budget are likely to force more UK citizens to fall back on food banks to meet their nutritional needs. Just a few years ago food banks were virtually unknown in the UK. But, since the banking collapse and the financial tsunami of 2008 left in their wake what some economists believe is a triple dip recession, The Independent reports the use of food banks in the UK is up 1000%.
The UK’s growing food poverty crisis has now come to the notice of Olivier de Schutter, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In 2012, as reported in the National Post, Mr. De Schutter received a barrage of criticism from the Canadian politicians after he’d accused the Canadian government of a failure to ensure food security for thousands of its poorest citizens. Today, Mr de Schutter has the UK’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition firmly in his sights.
As he did last year in Canada, Mr de Schutter reminded the UK government of its obligations under international treaties, specifically the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IESCR) which provides for the right to an adequate diet.
Article 11 of the IESCR provides:
“... the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent,” and refers to, “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger...”.
In the past, the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food has tended to concentrate on developing nations, reports The Guardian, but last year’s criticism of Canada coupled with the concerns now expressed regarding increasing food poverty in the UK demonstrate that as austerity measures exert an ever tighter squeeze on family budgets, the fundamental right to food security needs to be given greater emphasis. Under UN protocol, the Special Rapporteur may raise concerns but cannot comment specifically on measures taken by individual member states to combat food poverty unless the UN were to launch a formal investigation.
As The Guardian reports, even in an advanced nation such as the UK, a UN investigation is not an impossibility. Various charitable groups such as the End Child Poverty Coalition and the Trussell Trust which operates over 300 food banks in the UK intend keeping up the pressure on government. Speaking to The Guardian, Chris Mould, the director of the Trussell Trust, said: "Our message is clear. We want greater recognition of the depth of the food poverty problem. We want to see politicians engage seriously with the question of how best we tackle this issue."
According to Christian non-conformist website Ekklesia, Mr Mould said that UK 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. Mr Mould continued,
“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 Welfare Reform Act, which will particularly impact people who are already vulnerable and on low incomes. 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.”Ekklesia comments that Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly refused requests to visit food banks and to meet with their users face-to-face. It also said the UK Prime Minister had dismissed the issue of hunger, and instead saw food banks as a positive sign of his 'Big Society', where volunteers take up any slack caused by public service cuts.