Right to food
Right to food

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.’  Helder Camera

The text below is the starting point for a Right to Food Campaign which has emerged from the Carlisle Community Help (CCH) which was set up by Carlisle Labour City Councillor Lisa Brown at the start of the pandemic. Lisa, together with Karen Lockney, Labour Cumbria County Councillor who is also one of the organisers of CCH, will be promoting this campaign as part of their work.

At the October Penrith and the Border CLP meeting, Karen will be proposing a motion relating to this campaign, and is sharing the information below to help members get a sense of the group’s work and of the aims of this specific campaign, prior to the meeting. There is some other suggested reading at the end of this document for those who may be interested in this topic. Although the stated aim of the campaign relates to Carlisle, we aim to extend the reach of the campaign if we can secure the support of county and district councils, and the motion will be moved at Penrith and the Border with the aim of securing wider support for Eden and Cumbria more widely, as well as calling on the government to tackle food poverty.

Carlisle Community Help Right to Food Campaign

Key aim

To address the problems of food poverty and food insecurity in Carlisle.

Key principles

The right to food is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the United Nations.

The right to food should be enshrined in UK law.

People have the right to eat with dignity and with choice, and not only have the right to food, but to good, affordable food.

There should be no need for food banks in the UK.

Background to this group and the Right to Food Campaign

Carlisle Community Help was founded by Lisa Brown in March 2020 with the initial aim of offering immediate support with shopping and prescription deliveries during the Covid-19 crisis. The work of the group quickly grew, in response to the severe effects of the pandemic and lockdown, to encompass emergency food parcels and also school lunch parcels for children normally in receipt of free school meals, and those who became newly vulnerable as result of the crisis.

In July 2020 Lisa Brown and fellow organiser Karen Lockney, having reflected on the past 4-5 months of community support, launched this campaign to tackle some of the root causes of food insecurity, and to raise awareness of this growing problem in society, campaigning for both national and local action to end food poverty.


What this campaign seeks to do

  • Take as its starting point the issues and needs experienced by and voiced by those in our community who have received food support (both during and prior to the pandemic)
  • To be rooted in the community and to work with and for the community to bring about change
  • To listen to lived experience and take action to offer effective immediate support; to build medium and longer term resilience; to tackle root causes of food poverty locally and nationally
  • To learn from and build on work already done locally by district and county councils, public and third sector organisations and volunteer groups
  • To bring together community representatives, local government representatives, public and third sector organisations and volunteer groups to fight and ultimately eliminate food poverty in Carlisle
  • To campaign locally and nationally to combat food insecurity and have the right to food enshrined in law, supported by a sustainable food policy.
  • To eliminate the need for food banks and end food poverty in Carlisle.

What this campaign is not

  • People who can comfortably afford to eat, telling people who are experiencing food poverty what they should eat and how they should cope
  • Words without action

What is food insecurity?

This term is used alongside ‘food poverty’ and has been described as ‘limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g. without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies)’.

A 2018 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation found that between 2015-17, 2.2 million people in the UK were food insecure. A House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report pointed out this meant the UK is responsible for 1 in 5 of all severely food insecure people in Europe.

(Source of above data: Hungry for Change, House of Lords report, July 2020)

Is there a need for this campaign?

The World Bank estimates that 40-60 million people worldwide will be pushed into ‘extreme poverty’ as a result of the pandemic.

The Child Poverty Action Group states that there were 4.2 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2018-19. That is 30% of all children. 44% of children living in lone parent families are in poverty. Children from black and minority ethnic families are more likely to be in poverty (46% compared to 26% in white British families).72% of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one person works.


Prior to the pandemic, on 22 January 2020, Boris Johnson said during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons that poverty had diminished by 400,000, a claim he repeated on 17 June 2020 also at PMQs. Fact check information shows there is no reference for this claim, and that it is not consistent with the government’s own statistics. Poverty is measured in various ways, but both the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) forecast, and reporting from the government’s Social Mobility Commission (SMC) (itself based on government data from the Department for Work and Pensions – the Households Below Average income (HBAI) annual statistical data), shows that child poverty increased from 3.6m in 2011/12 to 4.2m in 2018/19. (www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)

Food insecurity is ‘a consequence of poverty and the social failures that sit behind it…evidence shows that poverty-driven food insecurity drives people to adopt cheaper and less healthy diets..resulting in health inequalities that manifest in obesity (particularly in children) and non-communicable diseases. People who have a hard time accessing food have an even harder time accessing healthy food.’ (Hungry for Change House of Lords report, July 2020).

The Food Foundation estimated in 2018 that 4 million children in Britain are at risk of malnutrition as a result of living in poverty, and their more recent data shows more than 5 million people in households with children under 18 experienced food insecurity in the first month of lockdown.

Up to July 2020, during lockdown, 1 million adults had received government food parcels and a further 4.4 million required further support from family, friends or the wider community. (Hungry for Change, House of Lords report, July 2020).

In Carlisle there were 637 emergency food referrals from 23 March-23 June 2020 (2,237 for Cumbria as a whole). By the end of September Carlisle Community Help (as one group operating in this area) will have delivered 23,500 school lunch parcels to those who would normally receive FSM or who are newly vulnerable and referred by schools etc.

A report showed that 29.6% of children in Carlisle live below the poverty line – with poverty classed as the family income being less than 60% of average earnings. (End Child Poverty report, May 2019)

Cumbria has some of the worst obesity rates in the UK. 68% of adults are overweight. There is a 20 year gap in life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest wards in Cumbria. (Cumbria Revealed, Cumbria Community Foundation report, 2017).

School staff and youth workers in Carlisle report families struggling financially, unable to afford uniform, children (from families both in work and out of work) coming to school or youth groups hungry. (e.g. News and Star 14/10/19)

In May 2020, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak warned the UK faced, ‘severe recession, the likes of which we have not seen’ and he cautioned that, ‘there is no doubt there will be more hardship to come’ (Rishi Sunak to House of Lords economic affairs select committee 19/5/20).


Proposed actions

Note: many areas of the UK have devised local action plans to combat food insecurity (a wide selection of these can be viewed at www.sustainweb.org), and there are several national campaign groups. Whilst we take inspiration and ideas from these existing plans, we believe it is important to develop a plan responding directly to Carlisle’s needs and drawing on local knowledge and expertise as well as to the wide range of work being done nationally.

Stage 1

Data collection, devising an action plan, developing a research group

We will collect data from those experiencing food insecurity. As this campaign seeks to respond to the needs expressed by those experiencing food insecurity, we have resisted devising a detailed action plan ourselves as this stage, as this would run the risk of imposing pre-ordained ideas and actions. Quantitative and qualitative data will be gathered by Dr. Karen Lockney, senior lecturer at the University of Cumbria in Carlisle, drawing on as wide a sample as possible in the form of questionnaires and follow up interviews and focus groups. From this, participants will be invited to form a research group which co-authors an action plan and acts as a reference point for the campaign, working with group organisers to gather follow up data, and will be supported to present their own findings and voice their own experiences to wider audiences in support of the campaign as it progresses.

Seek local government support

We will seek the immediate support of Carlisle City and Cumbria County Councils (through motions presented to by councillors within the group)  to formally recognise food poverty and insecurity as issues demanding priority action; to pledge to measure annually food insecurity in Carlisle; to promote existing initiatives and develop and support new initiatives to tackle food insecurity; to develop robust emergency planning for future crises which challenge food insecurity.

Promote the campaign in the local media and on social media

We will actively promote our campaign to seek involvement of as wide a cross section of our community as we can.

Research and learn from existing initiatives in Carlisle

We do not want to re-invent the wheel or ignore good work already done in this area, and we will actively seek to learn from and share work already done in this area e.g. in council plans, by community groups, charities etc.

Stage 2

  • Share our findings with relevant groups, many of whom already have skills and expertise in this area e.g. local councillors and council officers, local MP, community groups, charities and third sector organisations, schools and other relevant public institutions.
  • Invite these groups to come together and work with us and our participants to address jointly the actions.
  • Publish findings and further promote the campaign to as wide an audience locally and nationally, supporting participants to present findings and co-author published materials e.g. academic papers, press releases, creative responses.
  • Maintain the activities of the research group as a constant reference point for the campaign and actions.
  • Identify and support young people who can act as ambassadors for the campaign, promoting understanding of food insecurity.
  • Write and publish educational materials for schools and other organisations to further understanding of food insecurity.


Beyond this stage

The campaign aims to continue and grow long beyond this stage, but the detail of this will be dependent on the action plan devised by participants in Stage 1. This document will be revised once we know the direction of travel.

In order to stimulate discussion and ideas about ways to progress, these are some of the ideas that are present in the action plans of other areas in the UK, in existing national campaigns and ideas which have already been shared with us by interested parties locally, including those already in receipt of our support:

Promoting understanding and empathy: articulating how food poverty is measured and experienced; publishing local statistics; developing educational resources for schools.

Provision and access: developing an affordable food hub/ social supermarket; developing a mobile affordable food hub for rural areas and to promote accessibility; developing online access to affordable food; developing a permanent ‘holiday hunger’ project; exploring use of allotments, farm land, ‘grow and share’ for locally grown food; improving uptake of existing provision and benefits e.g. free school meals, Healthy Start vouchers; removing the stigma of food charity including free school meals; considering provision to homeless people.

Skills and knowledge: understanding what support people may (or may not) wish for in relation to cooking skills, healthy eating, growing food.

Community and collaboration: bringing relevant groups together, learning from each other; holding social food events; ensure a community presence for support; ensure a holistic response for community support e.g. seeing the link between food insecurity and other challenges such as housing, mental and physical health; understand different cultural contexts within our community.

Local economy: councils can seek to build stronger local economies to help end food poverty. At present growth is detached from poverty and “inclusive growth deals” are only tinkering around the edges. Whilst we appreciate that this is a bigger issue than we can allocate space to here, there are some initial points the authorities can begin to explore. For example, local government could look at adapting a more generative local economy rather than the extractive model we have currently. They can also look at what social impact local government spend has currently, spending as much money locally will have many local multipliers. Currently the dominant policy mindset across the country is cheapest procurement and inclusive growth is a guilty conscience offer, rather than inclusion being important in its own right. We will not end food poverty without addressing these issues.

Environmental issues: consider the role of local food; reduce waste; support good practice in food production.

National campaigning: lobby government to commit to enshrine the internationally recognised right to food in domestic law, and to commit to a sustainable food policy; campaign for changes to the benefit system to establish a more humane and effective way of supporting those in need of support.


Further reading

This campaign is rooted in the idea of ‘Thriving Communities’ which is explored in depth in Radical Help: how can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the Welfare State by Hilary Cottam (2019, Virago Press).

There is a great deal of useful information about food campaigning on the website www.sustainweb.org, a national organisation to improve food and farming. They have a recent publication Food and Covid-19: how local authorities can support recovery and resilience’ which can be downloaded free from the site, and which has links to other local authority action plans. There are also weekly blogs.

Hunger Pains: life inside foodbank Britain by Kayleigh Garthwaite (2017, Policy Press)

Food Bank Nations: poverty, corporate charity and the right to food by Graham Riches (2018, Routledge)

Those interested in a Marxist view may like to look at the following academic article which is available free via Google Scholar: ‘Historical Materialism and alternative food: alienation, division of labour and the production of consumption’ by Thomas Cheney Socialist Studies 2017 11 (1)

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) also has a lot of useful information.

The Food Foundation has a lot of information, including their 2020 Children’s Right2Food Charter

The Trussell Trust supports food banks nationwide and campaign to end the need for food banks in the UK.

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