Will awareness of food poverty bring about an understanding of inequality?
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: Image by succo from Pixabay
I first met Daphine at the Hammersmith and Fulham’s mayor’s reception in 2015. Daphine was the manager of the local food bank and I was working at the Law Centre. Surrounded by mountains of free food and drink, I asked her if she felt guilty. She told me she did at first, but not anymore – although she had put on weight. The reason for this was that she spent a lot of her time sitting and listening to people’s stories over a cup of tea and a piece of cake.
It was through listening to those stories that Daphine realised she needed to do more than just provide food, and this is how the Law Centre became a partner at the food bank. With grant funding for a child poverty lawyer, we went every Tuesday to sit, eat cake and listen. But then, when we returned to the office, we started to make the change that was needed – challenge the Department for Work and Pensions or the Home Office, or defend the possession claim.
As we were discussing the impact of food poverty, I asked Daphine to speak at the Housing and Poverty Group1The Housing and Poverty Group brings together lawyers and campaigners for social justice to look at themes and ways to challenge injustice in a strategic way. If you want to join, please email me. in May along with Jamie Burton QC, who, as well as being a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, is a co-founder of Just Fair. Daphine told us that in 2019, she distributed just under 12,000 emergency food parcels; in 2020, it was 45,000 – just for Hammersmith and Fulham.
The Trussell Trust report, State of hunger (May 2021), is the largest ever study into hunger and food bank use in the UK. The trust notes that 18 per cent of households referred to its food banks during the pandemic were single parents – more than twice the rate in the general population. The trust’s food banks supported 320,000 children in 2019/20 – a 49 per cent increase from the year before. These figures make it hard to believe the government’s commitment in the Queen’s speech (more of that inside) to bring forward measures ‘to ensure that children have the best start in life’.
In his talk, Jamie mentioned the nationwide movement of football fans, Fans Supporting Foodbanks, who are working to tackle poverty and hunger in their communities. They want to be more than just a charitable response. This means addressing the root causes of hunger and food poverty in the UK. They need 100,000 signatures to force a debate in parliament calling for an enforceable human right to food in the UK. I asked Jamie if LAG could help by sharing the petition and increasing awareness. The response was overwhelmingly positive, including a tweet from Kartik Raj:
Wonderful to see @LegalActionGrp (thanks @JamieBurton29 QC) throw its weight behind the @SFoodbanks petition to get the #righttofood written into domestic law. Football fans, human rights organizations, the bakers’ union, a renters’ union, now activist lawyers. Who’s next?
It feels like food could be a prism through which we might begin to get people to understand inequality. It is really very simple: every person should have the right to be free of hunger. How could anyone argue with that? If we begin with a right to food, then maybe we can start to move towards a social bill of rights for housing, social care, education, even legal representation. As legal aid lawyers, we know the difference that representation makes. Which leads me on to the awards …
Huge congratulations to all who have been shortlisted (see pages 8–10 of this issue). I am very much looking forward to finding out what Team LALY have pulled out of their hat for us this year. Whatever it is, it will be special!
It is poignant, though, that both a celebration of legal aid lawyers and a very tangible example of what it is like to work as a legal aid lawyer are inside this issue. Last year, Mike McIlvaney of the Community Law Partnership (CLP) won the outstanding achievement award at the LALYs, where he was recognised for his tenacity and persistence after a five-year legal battle on behalf of his client, Terryann Samuels. She had been found intentionally homeless when she fell into arrears because of a £34 shortfall between her housing benefit entitlement and her rent. Although she won in the Supreme Court ([2019] UKSC 28; July/August 2019 Legal Action 45), almost every step of the way was blocked by what we have begun to call the culture of refusal at the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). Most of the work was done by CLP at financial risk. Fast-forward one year – another awards ceremony and another CLP case (two, actually) facing exactly the same culture of refusal at the LAA. When we say it is time for change, it really is.
Finally, a plug for LAG’s very special housing conference (my first) on 17 and 18 June 2021 (two half days). There is so much on offer: updates, interesting people, thought-provoking ideas and even a few fun sessions – who wouldn’t want to have lunch in the judges’ chambers or end the day with a few tales from the front line? The president of the Law Society will be speaking, as well as the new shadow housing secretary, Lucy Powell MP. You even get some exciting (well, I think they are) housing-related freebies. Join us!
 
1     The Housing and Poverty Group brings together lawyers and campaigners for social justice to look at themes and ways to challenge injustice in a strategic way. If you want to join, please email me»

About the author(s)

Description: Sue James
Sue James is CEO of LAG. She was previously director and housing solicitor at Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre and a founding trustee at Ealing Law...