The basic human right to food was discussed at a recent meeting as councillors debated ways to combat hunger in York.
Labour instigated the discussion to draw attention to increasing local use of food banks, with the Trussell Trust confirming a 20% increase in the number of food parcels provided in York over the past year.
Labour councillor Bob Webb said one of the main areas of concern remains school holidays. He said:
“Since 2010, society has come to accept the existence of food banks in one of the richest countries in the world, which speaks volumes about Government priorities over the last decade.
“Unfortunately the Covid pandemic has exacerbated problems that already existed, leading to more families and more children needing food parcels, yet often still going hungry. I know school holidays can be one of the toughest times for those who’re struggling financially, which is why our motion calls for the permanent extension of free school meal vouchers outside term time, without conditions on a child’s right to food. We shouldn’t be expecting children to sing for their supper, as the Government’s demeaning Holiday Activities and Food Programme suggests they should.
“We also want to see an action plan developed for York that plans how as a city we can ensure everyone is able to eat each day, consistent with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a low wage, high housing cost city like York, our proposals to tackle hunger respond to the specific needs of our residents so I’m pleased that they were endorsed by a majority of councillors. The test will now be whether or not the ruling Lib Dem-Green Coalition acts on them”.
Also proposed through the motion to help address holiday hunger was the use of community buildings in school holidays. Labour says the use of schools and community centres as ‘community kitchens’ could prove to be a vital tool in combating holiday hunger.
Labour’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Claire Douglas said:
“It makes absolute sense to have local venues as part of the solution, situated close to the families that would use them in school holidays. This could be a low cost and effective way of doing what needs to be done to make sure people aren’t going hungry.
“Residents and community groups pulled together and did a great job during the pandemic to help tackle food poverty, so we think the local commitment is there to make this work.
“But the call for Government to reverse its decision to end the Universal Credit uplift was also essential and something we’re pleased gained broad support from other political groups”.
Amongst other actions, the motion tasks the ruling Executive with setting up a food partnership to bring together local stakeholders. The partnership will develop a local food action plan to help address the causes of food poverty in York.