15 Sep 2020

Which of the following best expresses your view on enshrining the human right to food into Scots law?

Fully supportive 

Enshrining the Right to Food in law brings into force existing commitments that the UK as a whole has already endorsed through Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. There is little disagreement that the right to food is a fundamental to one’s ability to live a fulfilled life. A nation as wealthy and developed as Scotland should not be afraid to put in place such a right.

A rights-based approach ensures that the government must consider the impact of all its policies on citizen’s ability to access a healthy diet. This ensures that all government departments, not just welfare and health, must consider these matters, including transport, planning, energy and justice.

We also believe that a focus on Right to Food will ensure that the broad range of forms of food insecurity are considered. Although poverty is a key reason for food insecurity, it is not the only one, and many people will be food insecure for reasons such as reduced physical or mental capacity, poor housing, poor access or illness.

Which of the following best describes your view on the creation of an independent statutory body with responsibility for the right to food?

Fully supportive

Good policy making requires good quality information and data. Ensuring we understand the scale of food insecurity and its causes is vital if Scottish Government are going to be able to introduce effective policy to tackle it.

It will also ensure that the issue of food insecurity remains at the top of the agenda, providing information to opposition MSPs, media and third sector bodies to help them hold the government to account.

Ensuring the independence of the body overseeing the right to food ensures it can criticise government and highlight concerns when required. The purpose of a rights-based approach is that citizens are able to challenge the government when their actions harm their ability to access a healthy diet. An independent body could act as champion on citizens’ behalf.

There are existing examples of such bodies (non-statutory) in Spain: http://www.oda-alc.org/oda-e/ and for all of Latin America: http://www.fao.org/3/I8719EN/i8719en.pdf

It will be important that the body also considers food and nutrition policy more broadly than simply the right to food, so that other important commitments, such as addressing obesity or nutrition related diseases.

What do you think would be the main practical advantages and disadvantages of the proposed Bill?

Using a framework bill is a good means of ensuring that the Right to Food is truly cross-departmental, and will not be framed around one aspect of food security. It is also the recommended approach by the FAO. However, it may be that the right could be included within the proposed Good Food Nation Bill if this if brought forward with sufficient urgency.

The complexity of food policy, poverty and food insecurity means that framework legislation can appropriately encompass what is needed. It also gives the government flexibility to introduce further policy and legislation dealing with more detailed aspects of the Right to Food.

As is outlined in the consultation document, there remains misunderstandings about how a Right to Food would work. Such confusion may garner a hostile response from the public or media. It will therefore be important that any Right to Food bill is properly explained and communicated during its implementation.

It will be important to ensure that the Bill does not conflict or duplicate the purpose of the existing Good Food Nation policy. The Bill, if appropriately worded, should strengthen the existing commitment to ensure “everyone in Scotland has ready access to the healthy, nutritious food they need.”

Equally, the bill should seek to support the existing positive work undertaken by Scottish Government on food and health, such as the healthy weight strategy.

Which of the following expresses your view of enshrining a right to food into Scots law as a priority in advance of any further Scottish Government legislation on wider human rights?

Fully supportive

All human rights are important, and our support for this approach does not diminish the need to look at legislation to enshrine further human rights. However, we would argue that the issue of food insecurity is particularly acute. Hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland are struggling to eat enough to live a healthy, fulfilled life. This should be a source of shame to society as a whole and a spur to urgent action.

Also, many other aspects of Human Rights are better protected under existing law than the Right to Food.

What advantages or disadvantages would there be to establishing a statutory body with responsibility for the right to food?

We have stated the advantages of a statutory body above.

Any body will require sufficient powers, funding and autonomy to be truly effective. By being a statutory and presumably publicly funded body, the organisation would be, to some degree, accountable to government, which may impact its independence. Other models abroad have instead been hosted by academic institutions.

If the Good Food Nation Bill is brought forward and can contain the Right to Food, it will be important to ensure any such body either supports this work, or is given a wider remit to hold the government to account to for the commitments within that bill.

Upon establishment, any statutory body should seek to understand and highlight existing good work that is being undertaken by Scottish Government, health services and local authorities to improve nutrition and diet, and ensure that their duty to hold government to account on the Right to Food does not adversely impact this work. 

Which of the following best describes your view of placing responsibility for guaranteeing the right to food on the Scottish Government?

Fully supportive

Food insecurity is a multifaceted issue, with no one single cause, impacting on people at every age and in all parts of Scotland. Scottish Government is unique in having the levers to change many of these causes, be that through welfare, taxation, health services, justice or agricultural policy. 

Scottish Government’s stated purpose is “to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish”. Ensuring that everyone in Scotland has enough to eat is absolutely central to ensuring that all of Scotland can flourish.

What impact do you believe bringing the right to food into law would have on:

Reducing food insecurity

  • Significant impact

Improving people’s health

  • Significant impact

As mentioned previously, a Right to Food would have the impact of requiring all parts of Scottish Government to take action to ensure citizens can access a sufficient and healthy diet. Although the impact is unlikely to be instantaneous, we are confident that such a right would require Scottish Government to implement new policies to tackle food insecurity.

Food insecurity, which in turn leads to malnutrition, has a clear impact on the health of hundreds of thousands of Scotland’s citizens. This can include general undernutrition, specific nutrient deficiencies or poor diets leading to medical conditions such as obesity or type-2 diabetes. The link between these lifestyle diseases and deprivation is clear. As we are confident that a right to food would reduce food insecurity, it holds that this would impact positively on people’s health.

Taking account of both costs and potential savings, what financial impact would you expect the proposed Bill to have on:

Government and the public sector

  • Some increase in cost

Businesses

  • Broadly cost-neutral

Individuals

  • Broadly cost-neutral

If a Right to Food achieves the desired outcome, it will require government and the public sector, at least in the short term, to invest in action to reduce poverty, increase access to food, support vulnerable people to eat and so forth. As a consequence, there may be some increase in cost. However, we would expect long term health benefit to reduce the burden on the NHS in Scotland of conditions such as malnutrition and obesity.

There may be increased legislative burdens on businesses as a consequence of actions falling out from a legal Right to Food. However, we would expect food and retail businesses to benefit from those currently food insecure able to better access and purchase food.

Similarly, we would expect the overall impact on individuals to be neutral. Although we do not necessarily believe that food should be made cheaper, we would expect increased cost or taxes to fall on those most able to afford them, with those most food insecure benefiting more. Again, the tax burden would fall if health conditions such as Obesity and Type 2 diabetes were significantly reduced.

What overall impact is the proposed Bill likely to have on equality, taking account of protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010?

Positive

We know that food insecurity disproportionately impacts on women, ethnic minorities and older people. This is partly a consequence of poverty, but also because malnutrition caused by disease, physical disability or isolation impacts the elderly most significantly.

In what ways could any negative impact of the Bill on equality be minimised or avoided?

It will be important to ensure that the Bill and the eventual Right to Food considers all forms of food insecurity, and does not only focus on food poverty. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but food insecurity is much wider. Disease related malnutrition and malnutrition caused by isolation or lack of capacity is often unrelated to the economic status of the individual (although malnutrition is worse amongst older people in lower income brackets).

Do you consider that the proposed bill can be delivered sustainably?

The Bill’s very purpose is to deliver more sustainable and equitable economic and social outcomes for individuals.

However, more analysis may be needed to understand the potential cost of such a right to the government, to ensure its financial sustainability.

In relation to environmental impacts, food sustainability and food security are inextricably linked. Without ensuring that we minimise our environmental impact and tackle climate change, it will be impossible for Scotland to ensure ongoing food provision.

Do you have any other comments or suggestions on the proposal?

Should an independent statutory body be created, it will be important that it has access to dietetic expertise. Dietitians are the clinical nutrition experts, with significant expertise in managing malnutrition, obesity and other conditions related to food insecurity. They also have extensive public health expertise and nutrition research experience that would be vital for the work of such a body.