Mothers’ Manifesto: food insecurity, policy reform and a sustainable future

To coincide with the 2024 Mothers’ Day, campaign group Mothers’ Manifesto took to the streets between 10 and 14 March to call on our government to tackle rising levels of food insecurity by giving up their own food as part of a hunger strike.

The group, which is acting in solidarity with “all the mothers and their children who are being failed by the current system”, has staged a six-day hunger strike outside Parliament and is calling on the government to reform the current system which lets too many children go hungry. 

The group’s website cites how a shocking 45% of child mortality is caused by malnutrition and how 2.3 million people die of malnutrition annually. The group demands solutions to food insecurity in the UK,urging the government to fund free school meals for all state schools, as well as to tackle the currently inadequate Universal Credit system and to introduce a basic Living Wage. This comes at a time of a cost of living crisis where many in our own country are reportedly skipping meals just to stay afloat

It’s worth pointing out that, though the inflation rate is now down to about 3%, the cost-of-living crisis is far from over. Mortgages and rents are still high and bodies like water companies, councils and railways firms have or are about to introduce price rises which are some way above the inflation rate. Food insecurity in the UK is largely due to the weight of these economic pressures people are experiencing. This post on the BBC website says the absolute poverty rate is now the worst it has been for thirty years. So, the problem continues.

With images of grief-stricken, hungry children in the genocide in Gaza which haunt us every day, Mothers’ Manifesto also addresses the issue of food insecurity abroad. Its demands include reversing cuts to foreign aid, funding climate reparations and ceasing oil and gas expansion. 

As to how to raise the money to take these actions, the campaign group suggests a “90%, loophole-free windfall tax on oil and gas companies’ record profits”. It is no accident that the group has linked food insecurity with the social and financial responsibility of carbon majors. Global heating is set to decimate food systems everywhere, with rises in temperature accompanied by drastic shifts in weather patterns meaning that a rapidly diminishing amount of land is arable

Mothers’ Manifesto’s argument is an extension of the “polluter pays” principle: as fossil fuels are fueling our climate crisis, they are also fuelling food insecurity and should be made to pay. With the five biggest oil and gas companies making an eye-watering two hundred billion pounds in profit last year, it is easy to see the group’s reasoning as to where the money for these policies could and should come from.

It is not, however, easy to hold these fossil fuel companies to account. In fact, one of the ways that carbon majors have managed so far to avoid accountability under climate-related laws shows how challenging it is to prove the causal link between the companies’ emissions and the devastation that humans are experiencing, whether in food shortages, extreme weather or the resulting societal disruptions including the refugee crisis. 

It is therefore up to us, as citizens, to pile on the pressure for policy reform where our law leaves us hanging over a cliff-face. And that is an uphill battle. Millions in the UK have been seriously struggling with lack of food over the course of the cost of living crisis, and yet still we don’t have free school meals, or a Universal Credit system fit for a family. The West has needed to stop funding new fossil fuels for a long time, and yet oil and gas continue to pillage and plunder ahead, cheered on by governments. 

It is easy to begin catastrophizing in these times, but groups like Mothers’ Manifesto give us potential answers for a sustainable future. Knitting and crochet-ing their way through the hunger and the cold, they show us exactly who is causing these crises, and exactly who can pay for them. They show us a way through the fog and the thunder. Will you be joining them?

Lois Ryan

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