In the coming weeks, 6 million families will find that their Universal Credit payment will face an “adjustment”. The effect will be devastating: the £20 uplift, which is estimated to have kept 700,000 people above the poverty line during the pandemic, is due to be cut in October.
The Co-operative movement has campaigned on food justice for a number of years and it is one of the things we are most passionate about within the Party. As so many have pointed out, £20 a week could cover a weekly food shopping bill for some. It could be the difference between a healthy meal on a child’s plate or an empty stomach.
The past year hasn’t just been marked by the Coronavirus pandemic, but a pandemic of hunger as more and more families have fallen on hard times. In a world where work doesn’t pay, even those who’ve remained employed through the pandemic have struggled to keep meals on the table for their families.
We know that there are uncertain economic times ahead and many more families will suffer before the economic effects of the pandemic are behind us. I believe our country is better than consigning hundreds of thousands more individuals to living under the poverty line, unable to feed themselves and their families. That is why we will be supporting charities, civil society and Labour & Co-operative MP and Shadow Work and Pension Secretary Jonathan Reynolds as they campaign to force another u-turn from this Government.
From the start of our work on Food Justice, we saw access to food as an encompassing human right which should be enshrined in UK law. This Right to Food would place an expectation on Government to ensure that policy did not further entrench food poverty in our communities. It’s quite possible with the Right to Food enacted, this Universal Credit cut would not be able to go forward.
Alongside campaigning for a new Right to Food to be introduced, we have pressed for and won Local Government action on Food Justice across the country. We have championed our movement’s response and campaigning work on this issue, most recently the Community Larders that the Co-op Group have opened with Hubbub. Whilst we will continue this work, we also are well aware that at the most basic level, food insecurity is driven by poverty. We know that by ensuring that less people suffer poverty, we will lessen food injustice in this country.
Before the pandemic, I spoke about how food on the table, a secure home and a fair wage are the building blocks of life that ought to be everyone’s right. That achieving them for all ought to be common sense: common decency. That is why the injustice of food insecurity and indeed the injustice of the cut to Universal Credit strikes such a chord with all of us: because it robs people of that common decency and dignity.
To our members and movement who have fought so hard to keep people fed and for the common decency that we all deserve: thank you. For those who want to join that fight ahead of this disastrous cut: get involved – there has never been a more important time to join our fight for food justice.