Unite the union has warmly welcomed Portsmouth city council’s endorsement of the ‘Right To Food’ campaign as food bank use soars across the city.

The council last night (Tuesday 16 March) agreed to ‘Right To Food’ be incorporated into the National Food Strategy (NFS) and will write to the NFS’ independent lead Henry Dimbleby to further this request.

The NFS is an independent review commissioned by the government to plan for a better food system at a time when an estimated 11 million people in the UK are living in ‘food poverty’, made worse by the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic.

Unite believes that Portsmouth, where in January last year about 25 per cent of the city’s children were entitled to free school meals, is the first council in the south east to sign up to the campaign  - and the union urges more councils across the region to follow suit.

In November, the Trussell Trust reported its foodbanks provided 7,341 food parcels to families in Portsmouth during the first six months of the pandemic, 4,085 more than the same period the previous year.

Unite’s political officer for the south east  Richard White said: “We warmly welcome the city council’s decision to support the ‘Right to Food’ campaign, which Unite had strongly lobbied for.

“I understand that Portsmouth is the first council across the region to have adopted such a motion – and we urge other local authorities to sign up to this campaign that cuts to the very core as to who we are as a society.

“A ‘Right to Food’ law would make the government responsible for addressing the raging income inequalities and the broken benefits system which have pushed so many into poverty.

“It would force ministers to scrap its cruel five week wait before a claimant receives a penny of Universal Credit, a main reason why people are forced to turn to food banks.

“Footballer Marcus Rashford led the way to make sure hungry children are fed during the school holidays and now Unite is supporting the campaign led by Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne to make the Right To Food law.”

The council motion said: “This council notes the consistent high rates of poverty across large areas of Portsmouth. In January 2020 some 25% of children in the city were entitled to Free School Meals and that figure is thought to have increased significantly over the course of the pandemic.

“The Right To Food campaign is arguing that the 11 million people in food poverty should be central to this strategy. Enshrining the ‘Right To Food’ into law would clarify Government obligations on food poverty and would introduce legal avenues to hold Government bodies accountable for violations.”  

Labour councillor and Unite member Tom Coles, who moved the motion, said: "I'm really pleased to see this motion passed at full council. Food is a basic human right and it's important that this right is written into law to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

Unite member and city council candidate for Central Southsea Charlotte Gerada, who made a deputation at the meeting, said: “Campaigning around the ‘Right to Food’ has become a priority of mine, after seeing the levels of food poverty soar in Portsmouth. Local foodbanks have been struggling to keep up with demand since the start of the pandemic.

“It broke my heart dropping off shopping and hot meals to local families, veterans and NHS workers who simply cannot afford to put food on the table anymore - that's why Unite's campaign and the motion that passed at the  council meeting yesterday is so important."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Two links explaining the campaign in greater detail can be accessed below:

https://www.unitetheunion.org/campaigns/right-to-food-campaign/

https://www.ianbyrne.org/righttofood-campaign

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org 

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.