We have a right to food

Over the last year the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has been busy continuing our work on the ‘Right to Food’ campaign.

An extensive members’ survey conducted last year produced shocking results. 40% of respondents said that due to a lack of money they had eaten less than they thought they should have at some point during the pandemic.

 Over 35% said they had gone without enough food to make sure others in the house could be properly fed and 19% reported that there had been a time during the pandemic when their household had run out of food because of a lack of money. 

And it goes on, more than a fifth of members said they have had to rely on the support of friends and for food with 7% reporting that at least once they have had to rely on a food bank to feed their household.

These statistics do not lie. They tell the story of real people. The very people who worked in factories, bakeries and food processing plants all through the pandemic keeping the country fed. These workers need a pay rise. 

Wages in the food sector are far too low; working families are being penalised and their children are going hungry as food insecurity grows. A two-pronged campaign to increase pay and deliver statutory ‘Right to food’ is central to our campaigning work. 

As the cost-of-living crisis grows, energy bills, food inflation and petrol prices are spiralling out of control and even more people are being left with the terrible choice of heating or eating.

In Scotland, it is reported that 260,000 children are living in poverty and of those 68% are living in a household where at least one parent is in work. These are some of the very same people who responded to our survey and research. 

Over the last few weeks the BFAWU has submitted its views to three consultations going through the Scottish Parliament – on the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation Bill; the consultation on ending food banks and Rhoda Grant MSPs ‘Right to Food’ Bill. These bills taken together could offer some hope that change is coming. 

But we have real concerns that these bills will fail to deliver the change needed. The most far-reaching of these proposals is on the ‘Right to food and we are proud to be supporting this bill. However, we are concerned that the Scottish Government has to date failed to indicate their support and instead may rely on the ‘Good Food Nation’ Bill, which does not go anywhere far enough in seeking to eradicate hunger. 

How can any ‘Good Food Nation’ Bill be passed without addressing the food insecurity that affects so many people including our members?

We said in our consultation response that the failure to legislate for the right to food in the Good Food Nation Bill:

“Is a huge omission and a dreadful mistake. It is the elephant in the room and no ‘Good Food Nation’ Bill in 2022 can be taken seriously without a statutory commitment to deliver a right to food. How can Scotland be considered a ‘Good Food Nation’ when so many people in Scotland lack the financial wherewithal to purchase any food and are feeling food insecure as a result of endemic poverty and an economy – including in the food industry – based on low pay and insecure working conditions.

The Scottish Government should change tack and commit to a right to food and come up with a plan to provide all our citizens with access to good nutritious food. It should also use the powers at its disposal, for example via procurement processes and its Fair Work Convention to drive up pay and reduce poverty and use its social security powers to increase benefits”. 

Looking beyond Scotland it is becoming clear that this Tory Government and the current Labour Party leadership do not appear to support the introduction of ‘Right to Food’ legislation. However, like all campaigns and struggles we will have to organise and fight to pressure politicians to deliver change. That is why the BFAWU is working with academics and campaigners to pull together irrefutable evidence that supports our demand. We are seeking to build an unstoppable coalition of trade union, community, voluntary and faith groups to lobby for change.

This campaign is too important to fail. Whole generations are growing up hungry, children’s educational attainment is being affected, opportunities are being denied and potential is not being realised. Parents are going out to work without having eaten enough because they have given up meals so that their children can eat. What an indictment this is of our political and economic system. 

In every corner of the UK, the BFAWU will be fighting for change to a system that sees huge profits made by food producers and retailers whilst at the same time the families of workers go hungry. We will never accept this in the 5th richest country on earth. 

Please support and campaign for a legal ‘Right to food’ for all.