#NourishElectionAsks – Ask 1: Incorporate ICESCR

Introducing 6 Weeks, 6 #NourishElectionAsks

With just 6 weeks left until May 5th when Scotland elects its fifth Parliament, we’ll be spending each coming week focusing on one of the 6 #NourishElectionAsks we have addressed to candidate MSPs.

You can also have a look at all 6 Election Asks here, please use these asks to initiate conversations with candidates wherever the opportunity arises, and support Nourish to make sure that a fairer and more sustainable food system is a priority for the next Scottish Government.

This week we look at Ask 1 – Incorporate ICESCR in to Scots Law.

Nourish are one of many NGOs calling for the full incorporation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (we call it the Covenant here for brevity).
It is one of our 6 Election asks from candidate MSPs and the next Scottish Government; our Policy & Campaigns Officer, Elli Kontorravdis, explains why.


What’s this about more rights?

The Covenant is an important part of the international human rights framework, complementing the civil and political rights we have already enshrined in the Human Rights Act. The UK Government signed up to the Covenant in 1976 but never did anything to make those rights effective in our legal system.

Nourish believe in the principle of the indivisibility and interdependence of rights, we believe that civil and political rights such as the right to respect for private and family life cannot properly exist without equal protection for socio-economic rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living. This is why we want all rights to have

Nourish Scotland give evidence to UN CESCR

Creative Commons, Credit: Elli Kontorravdis

equal weight in Scots Law.

The part of the Covenant we are focusing on the most in our Right to Food campaign is the right to an adequate standard of living (which includes the right to food). The Covenant covers a number of other important rights including the right to work and to fair work conditions, the right to join a trade union, the right to social security, the right to health, and the right to education.


And why?

We see all around us that the UK has in reality regressed on many socio-economic rights. The failure to secure a minimum wage that reflects the rising cost of living has left huge numbers of people unable to cover the cost of essentials such as heating and food. Likewise, austerity cuts to already inadequate social security have further undermined the dignity and wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our society.

We know that 117,689 people relied on Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland alone in 2014-15. And these figures don’t even reflect the number of people using other emergency providers, or people who are unable to access any at all. We know that a third of people relying on food banks are children, and that food poverty has long term impacts on child attainment and quality of life.

Concerningly, we don’t know how many people actually are food insecure in Scotland, we don’t monitor this at all across the UK. Though if we assume that anyone living below the poverty line (that’s anyone with an income under 60% of the average) is likely to experience anxiety about making their income stretch to the next payment, then food insecurity may be affecting as much as 20% of the population.

This is a huge problem and we haven’t even began talking about the impacts of our food system on the environment, and the exploitative practices facing workers and decimating rural communities. We know that we need to do something to reverse these trends urgently, and that real change will require a combination of legislative, policy, and community-based actions. Here we call on candidate MSPs and the next Scottish Government to take action where the UK Government has consistently failed. The necessary changes are within Scotland’s legislative competence.

Scotland has already become internationally recognised for our progressive approach towards monitoring human rights performance through the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights. We call on the next Scottish Government to go further and to make Scotland a world leader in the fulfilment of human rights by bringing socio-economic rights home, and using them as a framework for ensuring everyone living in Scotland has an adequate standard of living which meets their right to food.


What specifically is the right to food?

The right to food may sound like an ambiguous idea, we are often asked ‘what would a right to food look like in Scotland?’ The truth is there is no single model; there are infinite ways to make the right to food a reality and we already have some excellent rights-based food policies, for example on universal free school meals for P1-3, and on healthy start vouchers for pregnant women and young children.

But as above, the reality is that our existing measures are not enough. A rights-based approach to food is one in which everyone has financial and geographical access to adequate, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, with dignity now and in to the future.

A right to food applied could include lifting the minimum wage to the real living wage and also using the Minimum Income Standard to calculate social security – ensuring everyone has at least the minimum income needed to have a socially acceptable standard of living, which includes being able to buy food. It could mean reforming our planning system to make geographical access to food a priority in area planning, and giving local councils the power to reject applications for places selling highly processed fast food near our schools. It could mean giving additional support to lower income communities to ensure the community right to buy land further enables access to space to grow. It could also mean further land reform measures for secure farming tenancies and a tenants’ right to buy. It could mean duties on healthcare professionals, and opening up public kitchen to community groups. It could even mean a retailers levy to align the nutritional composition of sales to national dietary targets.

The reason we’re calling for legislation rather than continuing on with individual policies is because policies are often reactionary, they plug specific gaps in service provision, and they are at the mercy of political will. We want this law to be strategic, we want it to create a framework that not only deals with gaps but prevents gaps arising, and we want this law to outlast Parliaments.

Having a right to food is not supposed to be litigious or bureaucratic; it doesn’t mean the First Minister will drop by our house when we’re out of food. But it creates a framework in which everyone has the means and choice to access food in a dignified way.

Incorporating the Covenant is just part of the job, in order to make the rights it brings real we will also need to take a radically different approach across the existing policy landscape, which is why Nourish are also calling for the next Government to introduce a Food, Farming and Health Bill. More on this Bill next week, the important principles to bear in mind for now are policy coherence and accountability.

Ultimately we want everyone to be able to eat food that is tasty and that makes us well, that treats farmers, workers, and animals fairly, that enriches our communities, and that doesn’t cost the Earth.