With a widely predicted economic recession on the way, threatening people’s living standards across the UK, calls for the implementation of a Basic Income are growing louder by the day.
The Food Ethics Council is the latest group to advocate a Basic Income, with their Executive Director Dan Crossley stating “Our food system needs a booster seat rather than the current safety net which has too many holes […] now is the time for radical policy interventions like UBI.”
The Food Ethics Council is a charity which provides independent advice on the ethics of food, with the aim of building a food system which is just and healthy for people, animals and the wider environment. A key facet of this is tackling food insecurity and poverty, focussing on the long term root causes, as opposed to solely reacting with short term solutions.
To be in food insecurity is to be without access to affordable and healthy food. This has become a growing issue in the UK, with the exponential growth in food banks in every town and city emphasising the challenge of food insecurity. Whilst it would be problematic to calculate the scale of food poverty based only on numbers of food parcels delivered,, last year the Trussell Trust’s delivery of 1.6m food parcels provides just a glimpse of the scale of the challenge.
Whilst the volunteers and local organisations who run and supply food banks demonstrate the compassion and solidarity that exists across the UK, there are of course problems with them too. Food banks provide short term support for those in need, however they aren’t designed to tackle to long-term causes of food insecurity, namely low-income, unemployment, debt, social security payment issues amongst others.
The Trussell Trust provides a voice to food bank users, providing the stories of people who have faced food insecurity and looked for support. One example is a young guy called Josh, who at 16 was taken into foster care and could not afford to feed himself: “I was starving for about a week. I didn’t have any food and had really bad anxiety, but it came to the point where I had to ask for help from the food bank.”
A key difficulty is that those people most in need of food aid often do not access it, perhaps due to not regarding themselves as in extreme need or finding the experience degrading and shameful. As Josh’s words express, food insecurity is not just the physical challenge of not eating enough food, it’s also the mental difficulty and anxiety this insecurity can present.
This is where a Basic Income can come in not only supporting the transformation of our food systems and the eradication of food insecurity, but also providing psychological security through an unconditional basic level of support. As Dan Crossley says:
“UBI could empower people to participate in society and provide a non-stigmatising, equal footing for all. UBI would bring dignity back to the table”.
Empowering people and supporting them to be autonomous is the foundational principle of a Basic Income. Whilst our current social security system degrades and stigmatises claimants through means tests and conditions, a Basic Income acts with respect and provision of unconditional security. Similarly, whilst food banks represent the best in civil society, the fact that people in one of the richest countries in the world cannot access enough food and have to rely on charity is a national shame. A Basic Income will give everyone a bare minimum, ensuring all households can afford decent food and no children will go to school hungry.
The timing of this statement could not be more apt. Only days before the Food Council published this report footballer Marcus Rashford forced Boris Johnson and the UK government into a U-turn over the provision of free school meal vouchers over the summer. Food insecurity is a huge issue, and the government are running away from confronting it. As the Food Ethics Council has stated, a Basic Income has the power to radically reduce food insecurity and prevent others sliding into food insecurity, particularly in the context of Covid-19. Therefore just as Boris Johnson was forced to shift policy on food vouchers it is critical, given the economic hardship the coming months will bring for many, that we force our elected representatives to support the implementation of a Basic Income.
The advocation of a Basic Income by the Food Ethics Council is yet another endorsement from a prominent UK charity. The network supporting a Basic Income spans across civil society, uniting diverse groups behind a single cause, which can support them in their pursuits. Be it ending food insecurity, poverty or homelessness, supporting sufferers of domestic abuse or suffering universal credit users, empowering artists to create or giving carers the dignity they deserve, a Basic Income has the power to empower us all.