‘Immoral and unjust’: Campaigners fighting food poverty urge the government to enshrine the ‘Right to Food’ in law

Ian Byrne MP is urging the government to provide communities with the resources needed to tackle hunger and child poverty

Campaigners are urging the government to enshrine the ‘Right to Food’ into law when the National Food Strategy is published next month.

The campaign is led by Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby and a long-time community organiser against food poverty.

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Speaking to NationalWorld, Byrne said that the government must empower communities to fight food poverty and make the resources available to do so.

The Right to Food

“We’ve got 10 million people suffering from food poverty and 4.5 million kids in poverty, in one of the richest countries in the world,” says Byrne.

“We have to empower communities, and give them the ability to shape change, but we have to look at it realistically.

‘Immoral and unjust’: Campaigners fighting food poverty urge the government to enshrine the ‘Right to Food’ in law (Photo: Ian Byrne/Parliamentary portrait)
‘Immoral and unjust’: Campaigners fighting food poverty urge the government to enshrine the ‘Right to Food’ in law (Photo: Ian Byrne/Parliamentary portrait)

“In Liverpool we’ve seen 68 per cent cuts from central government funding to councils, so it has to come from Westminster as well.”

As part of the ‘Right to Food’ campaign, Byrne is calling for universal free school meals and the establishment of community kitchens around the country.

“Universal free school meals are an investment. If every child in this country gets a breakfast and a lunch, then that’s every child in this country better able to fulfil their potential.

“Another element is community kitchens. Utilising what we have in the community to open up spaces where people can learn about food and nutrition, where people can get together and cook as a community.

“Loneliness is a massive issue in this country, it has a bigger impact on public health than smoking or drinking. We’ve seen what Covid has done to make that worse, and community kitchens and other similar projects can all help with those things, as well as food poverty and hunger.

‘Rashford’s campaign was magnificent’

Byrne has submitted his proposal to the National Food Strategy, and published an Early Day Motion in parliament, but he admits that it might again take a high-profile campaign from the likes of Marcus Rashford to force the issue.

“Rashford’s campaign was magnificent,” Byrne says. “He had the government all over the place, and he united the country against child poverty and hunger.

“For me, all I can do is use every lever I have in Parliament. I’ve put forward the Early Day Motion and I’ve asked Boris Johnson to discuss it with me twice at PMQs, although I haven’t had anything back.

“But the power of this campaign is in the grassroots. It’s people coming together and saying to their elected representatives: ‘no more: it is immoral and it is unjust’.”

So far, the campaign has picked up the backing of more than 59 cross-party MPs, and received support from high profile figures including Kenny Dalglish and the Bishop of Liverpool.

A number of local authorities have also declared themselves as “Right to Food” areas, in support of the campaign.

Byrne is keen to stress that the issue shouldn’t be a partisan one, as some of the areas to back the campaign include Bolton council, which is Conservative run, and Totes in Devon, which has a Lib Dem council and a Tory MP.

“We’ve been campaigning, we’ve built a movement around the country with places declaring themselves ‘Right to Food’ areas,” he says.

“This isn’t political. It’s about the 10 million people who are currently unable to put a regular meal on the table. This affects nearly every family.”

Fans supporting foodbanks

Byrne, who was elected to parliament in 2019, co-founded the Fans for Foodbanks initiative in 2015.

The project brings together football fans, often from opposing teams, to donate food and other items to foodbanks in their communities, as well as other volunteering and support.

“What started off as a few of us bringing a wheelie bin to Goodison Park has now evolved into a national network,” he says.

“The network has grown organically, and it started with away supporters. You know, instead of being perceived as causing trouble we wanted to bring donations and food for the foodbanks in the communities around the teams that we’re playing against.”

Beginning with the Merseyside rivals Everton and Liverpool, Fans for Foodbanks now works through a number of top-flight clubs and many further down the football pyramid.

After working on projects which have brought together opposing fans from across some of football’s biggest rivalries, Byrne jokes that working cross-party is relatively easy.

“One of our proudest achievements is working with both Manchester United and Manchester City. And the first delivery to arrive at Manchester United’s foodbank when it opened came from Liverpool fans!

“It’s about like minded people coming together and breaking down the barriers of division and sectarianism between football fans. Looking at the bigger picture.

Byrne adds: “We’ve got to unite and come together, to fight against the policies that wreak havoc in our communities.”