“What does the right to food look like in other countries, and how does it look in the UK? How could the right to food be incorporated into UK law”Student Number: 241989Word Count: 2903
The cost of living inflation, benefit problems, and legal welfare reforms have resulted in a striking amount of UK individuals being forced into states of poverty, hunger, and food insecurity within our country. In the most recent years, the UK who was the fourth richest country in 2017, has experienced a huge increment in the number of individuals who have accessed food-banks, turned to the help from usage of emergency packages, and hospital admission with illnesses regarding starvation. The opinion is that the UK has breached the standard human right individuals should have to food and has defied ratified international law requirements. It will be seen that the human right to food has been violated in the UK, and the views highlight that the Government should respond quickly, and take movements to reduce starvation, and assure UK individuals are not deprived of their standard right to ample, and adequate food.
To start, all countries have an international right to provide individuals with a sufficient enough standard of living which is legally stated under Article 11 of the International Convent on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). ICESCR is an international treaty which aims to ensure the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security, health and education. Summarised, “the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living” Article 11, includes an individual’s right to basic categories such as; clothing, housing, continuous living conditions and food. Therefore, countries are required to take all possible measures through the use of their available resources, to ensure the reality of this right. In addition to this, ‘the Right to Food’ itself is recognised under Article 11(2) also of the ICESCR where international human rights law identifies the crucial right to be relieved from starvation. To summarise, the main focus on ‘the right to food’ calls for food to be accessible in a quality, and quantity that does not tamper with other human rights, meaning it is tolerable to situations regarding dietary requirements, religious aspects, and safe for human consumption. More so, CESCR General Comment No. 12 states that; this right to food is in fact identified by a number of instruments under international law, but ICESCR can be seen to tackle it most predominately, when compared with any other instrument with this right. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) however believes that definition of ‘the right to food’ is believed to be; “the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement”. Therefore, this entails that the right to food is an all-round right for individuals. It is not a right that is based mainly on living off the minimum number of calories, proteins or other required nutrients that can be accessed. It is in fact a right that covers all nutritional factors that any individual requires to live, and lead a healthy and active lifestyle, and have the appropriate means to practise them.
Regarding the UK’s legal stance, they ratified ICESCR in 1976, and as a result are always legally bound by ICESCR, which includes the international human right to adequate food. The UK reports to the CESCR every five consecutive years, with results regarding the implementation of ICESCR in the UK as a process, named as a periodic review. The UK Government’s next submission of the state report for the review by the CESCR will be submitted in June 2019, where the right to food, and others will be reviewed. It can be argued that the UK has in fact taken reassuring measures towards ensuring the right to food in the UK by signing, and ratifying a number of international treaties – as well as ICESCR – who also recognise the right to food as a requirement such as; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In addition to this, the European Social Charter, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union are regional human rights treaties who also believe in securing the access to adequate food as a human right, but, in a non-legal binding manner, and the UK is also party to these particular treaties. Another positive development in the UK was the introduction of free school meals by the Scottish Government in 2014. As of January 2015, the Scottish Government announced that all children in Primary 1, 2 and 3 in Scotland will be entitled to a healthy free school lunch. Furthermore, the UK Government also announced in 2014, that every child in state-funded schools in England in their first 3 years, will receive a free school lunch from September 2014. These implementations by the Governments are key for resolving malnutrition amongst younger individuals and preventing UK parents from relying on food-banks to provide school lunches for children.
On the other hand, there are concerns that the UK are not doing enough to secure the right to adequate food for individuals, due to the UK legal and policy framework not being fully compliant with Covenant requirements surrounding the right to food. At the level of domestic law, the UK has taken on a split approach to adopting human rights in to the country. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was introduced to UK law, under the Human Rights Act (HRA), and due to this movement, they are in fact legally valid in domestic courts. However, the issue lies with many social, and economic rights – including the right to food – remaining unenforceable in domestic law due to the ICESCR has not been incorporated into UK law, only ratified. Due to this, individuals are unable to seek legal enforcement regarding issues in areas surrounding the right to food as it not classified as a defined or written part of domestic UK law, meaning there is a lack of support for struggling individuals. In a further sense, the UK remains even more hesitant to hold itself responsible for the failing to implement the right to food. To be precise, the ICESCR offers an ‘Optional Protocol’, which allows the option for CESCR to receive any complaints from individuals, and the UK’s failure of the right to food can be highlighted through this, due to their failure to ratify this component of ICESCR. Similar to the above, there is an ‘Additional Protocol’ to the European Social Charter, which provides for an arrangement for collective complaints to be made, and as a result, the UK has also failed to ratify this in to the legal system. Therefore, it can be seen that the UK legal system is a main participant in the failure of the right to food in the UK, due to the lack of legal opportunities, and support in place for individuals. Sadly, victims of the right to food violations cannot attain ownership, or utilise the law to request accountability, or remedy.
Subsequently, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) announced in 2016 that they had concerns about the absence of adequate measures ratified by the UK Government to address the rising levels of starvation, food insecurity, involving obesity, and the lack of sufficient actions taken to limit the dependency on food banks. In regard to this comment, it was announced that in the financial year of 2017-2018, Trussell’s Trust – the world’s largest foodbank – provided 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis throughout the UK, and 484,026 of these packages alone, were provided for children. Moreover, to further highlight the issue with the access to the right to food in the UK, this statistic was a 13 percent increase from the previous financial year, 2016-2017, which issued a lower 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies to UK residents in need, and an even further concerning increase from the financial year of, 2013-2014 where they only issued 913,138 three-day emergency food supplies. Further issues with the UK’s standing on the right to food can be shown through the reasons for individual’s primary referrals to foodbanks. To add, in 2017-2018, the main reasons for referral to a local foodbank recorded by The Trussell Trust network was listed as ‘debt’ at 8.53 percent, ‘benefit change’ at 17.73 percent, ‘benefit delay’ at 23.74 percent, and ‘low income – unemployed, benefit dependent’ at 28.49 percent. This therefore reiterates that the UK Government are not using all their materials accessible, to the best of their ability, to ensure an adequate standard of living for UK residents like Article 11 of ICESCR states. To continue, one of the most worrying parts found about the use of foodbanks within the UK, was regarding the types of individuals that are continuously having to access the foodbanks. having to access the foodbanks. In 2016, the main household-type that accessed Trussell Trust foodbanks was single adult (living alone or with no household members) at a significant 50 percent, then it was noted that 75 percent of households using foodbanks reported having a mental, or physical health condition, and 35 percent of households specified having one or more types of these recorded mental health conditions. To conclude, it can be seen that there is a severe issue regarding access to an adequate lifestyle within the UK, and more serious issues surrounding ‘the right to food’. It can be seen from the above statistics that the most vulnerable groups of individuals in UK society are most at risk to facing malnutrition, or weight-based illnesses due to the lack of implementation of this human right by the state. To prevent this situation getting any worse the UN Committee of CESCR has recommended that the state party (UK) produces a far-reaching national plan which protects and promotes the right to satisfactory food so that it highlights food insecurity amongst all areas in the state party and will, as a result, produce better, and healthier diets for individuals.
Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a provision that states that children should have good enough nourishment from their food, which enforces a duty amongst the state party to fight malnutrition. Article 27 of the UNCRC recognises the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development, including adequate nutrition. However, it can be seen that children in the UK have limited access to this right, which is reflected through the statistical rise in malnutrition through the decline in food adequacy post-recession. In England, between the financial years of May 2013 – April 2014 the number of admissions to hospital that were malnutrition-related had increased by 19 percent, which was parallel with the increase in the use of food banks from 913,138 people in the financial year of 2013-2014, compared with only 346,992 in the financial year of 2012-2013. Worryingly, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) also released figures relating to the number of hospital admissions regarding the findings of rickets. To explain, this disease forms from upholding an unhealthy diet, having a lack of vitamin D, and calcium within a diet, and affects bone development of children. The number of people admitted in the years of 2008-2009 was 561 individuals, which then greatly increased to 702 individuals in the years of 2012-2013. As a result of this above evidence, it pinpoints a concerning backward movement which relates to food adequacy, and diet amongst UK individuals of all ages, further emphasising that there is need for reform in UK law surrounding ‘the right to food’.
Viewing the right to food in other countries highlights a massive difference between the UK, and countries such as Africa, Brazil and Germany. In the General Comment 12 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) as well as setting out the required guidelines for the Right to Food, it also advises party states to establish a legal framework as a foundation in their direction to achieving a rights-based approach to their food guarantee. Already, several countries have taken on a legal framework law within their country to help towards their security surrounding the right to food, these include; Guatemala in 2005, Brazil in 2006, and Nicaragua in 2009. It can be noted that adopting a legal framework on the side of the right to food, may quite notably contribute to the recognition, and realisation of the right to food, in numerous ways. Firstly, it guarantees that the state parties’ governmental body will be responsible if they do not adhere to the requirements that the framework inflicts on them. Secondly, by providing that the right to food will always be at the centre of national development strategies, and thirdly it will bolster the position of that country regarding deals surrounding trading or investments. To summarise, creating a national legal framework in the area of the right to food is simply compacting the provisions of the ICESCR in to the specific Governments. It could be recommended that the UK should adopt a legal framework because implementing the right to food in to domestic law, makes it functional at national level. In another aspect, Germany can also be seen to have a strong approach to ensuring the right to food in their state. To begin, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany has fundamental principles that in turn add to the recognition of the right to adequate food. Furthermore, the Federal Republic of Germany became a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by ratifying their ways in 1973. Germany have implemented an elaborate social security system, that ensures that none of its citizens struggle to live comfortably, regardless of the fact that they may be disabled, unwell, a single parent, or the elderly. This social security system that has been implemented ensures that German citizens are guaranteed to meet the minimum content required, to lead a life that reaches the minimum standard of living. This, therefore, is in line with the requirements of Article 11 of ICESCR which states that every individual has the right to an adequate standard of living, due to this programme in Germany no individual is left in difficulty. It could be recommended to the UK Government to implement a similar programme for social security as Germany, as it would result in less reliance on food banks in the UK, less individuals struggling for money at the end of the month, and less individuals from vulnerable groups feeling helpless. This would result in a greater domestic legal system being adopted, with a stronger legal standing overall.
To conclude, it can be seen that there are severe issues within the UK with the access to ‘the right to food’ because even though ICESCR was ratified in the UK, the lack of non-implementation to UK law means that there is no sufficient legal standing for individuals surrounding the right to adequate food. It could be recommended that the UK Government implement ‘the right to food’ in to UK law to give a stronger legal standing for affected individuals, and a more defined understanding to the right. More so, the increasing number of hospital admissions with reports of rickets is also highly concerning, therefore it is advised that the Government policies are reviewed, and revised against tackling malnutrition, and to also notice the major link between the rise in the use of foodbanks in the UK, and the number of hospital admissions that are malnutrition-related. It could be recommended that the UK Government create an international right to food action plan, and method to guarantee the right to adequate food for everyone in the UK; it should aim to fill the failing gaps that have currently been identified and ensure greater monitoring of any failings in the future to then solve them sooner. Due to the high numbers of people accessing food banks within the UK, and the categories of specific individuals who do so it could be recommended that the UK Government should take all fundamental measures to avoid, and eradicate discrimination surrounding the right to food, with specific regards to single-parent families, children and disabled individuals. On the contrary, there are positive aspects in which the UK Government have so far provided for individuals regarding the right to adequate food, such as providing free school means to primary school aged children, and by signing up to a number of treaties whom recognise the right to food as an essential requirement. However, when compared with the implementation of the right to food in countries such as Germany, and specific South African countries, it is evidently a stronger, and more successful legal right, and therefore, there is definitely a long way to go before such an international human right can be successfully sustained within UK law. It could be recommended that the UK Government could achieve this by ensuring national revenue is spent on appropriate resources that will recognise the need for the right to food, and progressively improve the access to the right in the UK.