A top United Nations official has warned that the explosion of British people relying on foodbanks could represent a human rights abuse.
The UK’s food poverty crisis, marked by a tenfold increase in the use of foodbanks since the start of the recession, attracted the attention of Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Schutter reminded the Government of its “duty to protect” the basic human right to an adequate diet at a talk in London yesterday.
Schutter is in charge of ensuring governments abide by Article II of the IESCR, which denotes that people should be able to afford an adequate amount of food without having to compromise other basic needs. The majority of Schutter’s work is carried out in developing countries but he is concerned that the “failure of social policies” in the world’s richest countries has created growing inequalities.
Schutter said foodbanks were “becoming a fundamental feature” of our social protection system and “they absolutely should not.” Schutter commented that the UN’s human rights representatives were concerned that governments were using austerity as an excuse not to tackle inequality and the problems faced by the poorest in society. He remarked, “The impact on healthcare in the next 15/20 years will be gigantic.”
Chris Mould, Trussell Trust chairman, told the talk he envisaged every town in Britain would soon have a foodbank. But it should “be the same as every town having an ambulance service. It’s for emergencies. If you need a foodbank all the time, you need to be signposted to something more permanent that can help.”
In the same week Downing Street proclaimed in PMQs that foodbanks are there for people who “feel they need a bit of extra food” and that benefits were set at a level that meant people shouldn’t go hungry.
But Shadow Equalities Minister Kate Green said: “Foodbanks do a great job but it is shameful that people have to rely on them. The stigma of having to ask for food is one that no-one in a rich country should face… I would be very interested to know what view international human rights bodies would take to this.”
Mould said government action on food poverty was desperately needed. “We are on our way to having a permanent underclass. Consisting of people living in poor neighbourhoods that have no opportunities to choose different ways to feed themselves, fewer role models to follow and poverty transferred through generations.”