County Durham Labour councillors are calling on the Government to address spiralling food poverty and make food a human right.

Cllr Angela Surtees, Durham County Council portfolio holder for Social Inclusion, is tabling a motion at the next Full Council for the authority to lend its weight to the ‘Right to Food’ campaign.

The campaign aims to put the human ‘Right to Food’ into parliamentary legislation and included into the National Food Strategy.

Enshrining ‘Right to Food’ into law would clarify Government obligations on food poverty and introduce legal avenues to hold ministers accountable for any violations.

Cllr Surtees said: “The food poverty crisis is having a devastating impact on families and communities in our county. It is a crisis accelerated significantly through the politics of austerity and worsened by the economic contraction caused by the COVID19 pandemic.

“We have consistently high rates of poverty and there is growing concern among healthcare professionals that the current situation could significantly worsen, so we need immediate action from a Government that has only been spurred into action after being repeatedly humbled in the media by a young Premier League footballer.”

Currently, Durham pupils eligible for free school meals has increased by 3,000 in the last year, to approximately 20,000 young people, with the figure continuing to rise. Over 100 community groups provide emergency food provision, alongside food banks and community initiatives providing low-cost nutritious food in areas of deprivation.

“We can’t go on like this,” added Cllr Surtees. “One area saw an increase of 80% in emergency foodbank parcels given to families with children, as the pandemic continued to unfold.  With child poverty standing at almost 23% across the county, this equates to almost 1 in 4 children living in households struggling to make ends meet.

“These figures are devastating and shameful for one of the richest nations in the world. They serve to highlight the levels of inequality in the UK and it is my belief that this crisis has been borne of political choices and systemic failings.”

County Durham Labour will back Cllr Surtees’ Full Council motion on March 24, which will note consistently high rates of poverty across the county, recognise growing healthcare concerns and highlight the likely exacerbation of poverty due to Covid-19.

The motion will call for the ‘Right to Food’ to be incorporated into Government’s ‘National Food Strategy’ – the first independent review of England’s entire food system for 75 years. The aim of which is to identify the future food system the UK should be building, with a plan for how to achieve that vision.

There are currently 11 million people living in food poverty in the UK and if the motion passes, County Durham will join Liverpool as a ‘Right to Food’ county.