We need a Right To Food enshrined in law
If parents have a statutory duty to put children in school then surely the government of the day must have a legal duty to ensure they are fed so every single child can fulfill their potential.
In my constituency of Liverpool West Derby 6487 children live in poverty, a heart-breaking 34%, and these figures released by CPAG last week are pre-covid.
4.3 Million children living in food poverty across our nation. 75% of children growing up in poverty live in working families.
How have we reached this point?
And how do we address what should be the number one priority for any government regardless of political party: the end to child poverty in the 6th richest nation in the world.
Today, Parliament will debate how we have reached this point and how we can fix it because of the efforts of a man from Manchester who experienced poverty growing up and never forgot.
Without radical and systemic change we will not break this cycle many families find themselves in
Marcus Rashford, words that once struck fear into me and every other Liverpool Fan because of his undoubted football ability and the goals he notched up against my team. But now because of his outstanding humanitarian work in fighting child poverty, I said in Parliament it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he would now have his name sung on the Kop in Anfield.
The work he has done has been transformative and put child poverty right at the top of the political agenda and its worth highlighting his efforts which get us to Westminster Hall today debating the need to end child poverty.
In September last year, Marcus Rashford formed the Child Food Poverty Task Force, a coalition of charities and food businesses calling on government to implement 3 recommendations from the National Food Strategy.
In October he launched a parliamentary petition to #EndChildFoodPoverty, signed by over 1.1 million people.
And in November, following Marcus’s major public campaign, the government announced a funding package for alleviating child food poverty.
He has run a dignified and brilliant campaign which has resonated across the country; uniting people against the evil of child poverty, but we must go further. I often say the time for sticking plasters is over and I firmly believe that without radical and systemic change we will not break this cycle many families find themselves in - and post-Covid the importance of this cannot be underestimated for the future of this country.
This is a tipping point and as Parliamentarians we must act.
At every opportunity I will continue to talk about why we need a Right To Food enshrined in law. If we can legislate to make access to food a legal right in the UK, it will mean an end to many of the situations that force people into food poverty at present. Crucially, it will make the government, regardless of political party, legally responsible for ensuring people do not go hungry.
The grassroots Right to Food campaign, which I’ve been proud to bring to Parliament, recently made a submission to the National Food Strategy. It imagines what a Right to Food would look like in legislation and includes the call for universal free school meals, including a breakfast, for every child in this country.
If parents have a statutory duty to put children in school then surely the government of the day must have a legal duty to ensure they are fed so every single child can fulfill their potential and not hindered by an empty stomach. I applaud the work of Sharon Hodgson MP and Emma Lewell-Buck MP on this subject and I believe this call should underpin our response as a nation to tackling the poverty we all see in our constituencies amongst many other measures, including the £20 uplift to Universal Credit retained.
The great Nelson Mandela wrote “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
So let’s use today’s debate to start outlining how these actions will look. Parliamentarians owe this to the 4.3 million children depending on us and a certain footballer from Manchester who represents the best of this country.
Ian Byrne is the Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby.