UJS & NUS Conferences Pass Right to Food Motion with Significant Support

8 May, 2024 | Right to Food

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We are delighted to share that a Right to Food motion has passed with significant support at both the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and National Union of Students (NUS) conferences. This signals an exciting new wave of student support for the Right to Food. In this piece, we reflect briefly on each of the motions.

UJS

UJS held their annual conference in December 2023. ‘The motion titled 1: UJS to actively support a Right to Food in the UK’ was listed under ‘Community’ motions. This timely motion focussed on rising food insecurity and the rising cost of kosher food against this stark backdrop. As the cost of living rises, so does the cost of Kosher food. In the UK, Jewish children are going to bed hungry, and parents are having to choose between buying clothes or food as parts of this crisis hit faith communities particularly hard.  According to the Jewish Chronicle, the cost of Kosher food has increased by as much as 25% this year, or four times the inflation rate for non-Kosher food. . This rising trajectory presents a set of new barriers for many Jewish families. Jewish aid charity Give It Forward Today (GIFT) said it had seen a 50 % rise in the number of families appealing for help over the last 12 months.

The motion is clear that the Right to Food is the only feasible mechanism with which to end food insecurity. The motion states: “The Right to Food Campaign is the most robust, feasible mechanism through which to intervene in this crisis of food poverty. The campaign believes that the 11 million people currently living in food poverty must be a priority for the British Government. Enshrining the ‘Right to Food’ into law would clarify the state’s obligations regarding food poverty and provide a legal means for holding the Government to account for its implementation. The Right to Food holds at its heart the need for culturally and religiously appropriate food access for all those who need it, making it a significant cause for support from the Jewish community.”

The motions proposes that UJS should:

  1. Promote the Right to Food when engaging in the issue of food poverty, student food poverty and food donation initiatives. 
  1. UJS Sabbatical Officers should work with organisations such as René Cassin and Sustain to learn about the Right to Food and encourage JSocs to promote opportunities to sign petitions and attend gatherings on the Right to Food  
  1. UJS Sabbatical Officers, particularly the Social Action Officer, should sign up to René Cassin’s Jewish Food Rights Alliance, joining a network of other Jewish and faith organsiations supporting the right to food for all.  

NUS

NUS conference took place in Blackpool in April 2024. The policy on the Right to Food and cost of living crisis aims to set NUS up to campaign on specific issues in relation to the cost of living crisis and to support the national aims of the Right to Food campaign. The policy was written by Noah Katz in collaboration with the Lancaster University Students Union delegation. This policy passed with the most votes in favour of any of the five policies at Conference. You can find the text of the motion below:

Policy proposal title: Funding, Food & Shelter: Defending Students’ Right to Basic Human Rights
What’s the issue and how does it affect students?Students are worried about money & have been disproportionately affected by the Cost of Living crisis. This is affecting students’ quality of life and wellbeing, as well as severely impacting health – both physical and mental. Government funding for students has failed to keep up with the increase in the cost of living, meaning it is now vastly out of proportion and students are left struggling to make ends meet.
The UK has one of the highest rates of food poverty in Europe which has been significantly worsened by the Cost of Living crisis. Students are more likely to fall victim to this crisis due to their financial vulnerability and lack of meaningful support. Many students have reported feeling worried about access to food and some have been forced to use food banks. Students’ Unions across the UK have had to set up food banks & free food events, however there continues to be a stigma and misunderstanding attached to use of these services which acts as a barrier to access for many students. Despite being recognised as a human right, the Right to Food is not currently enshrined in UK law, meaning that the government is not being held to an appropriate level of accountability on food poverty rates.
Financial worries are further exacerbated by a seemingly out-of-control private renting environment, where unaccountable private landlords and Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) owners overcharge on rent and underdeliver on living standards. Not only does soaring rent prices leave students out of pocket, with most spending their entire student loan on accommodation, but they are forced to live in properties which are often unlivable. There is a widespread issue with mould in UK student accommodation, meaning students are at risk of becoming ill and receive no solutions from landlords. Due to the annual turnover of student renters in these properties, it’s difficult for students to understand whether they’re getting a good deal with their accommodation as they have no point of reference for rent costs and housing standards, meaning landlords can get away with increasing costs without improving properties.
Additionally, students are ineligible for benefits, which for many students means they lose a source of income that they may have relied on before entering full-time education. This also completely removes this option of financial support for students who are really struggling to make ends meet and have no other means of receiving an income. Maintenance loans are counted as non-earned income in eligibility assessments for means-tested benefits, and international students are not able to apply for most benefits at all.
It is impossible to ignore the intersectionality of this issue, with minority groups being disproportionately affected by rising living costs. Students with Widening Participation characteristics have been left contemplating dropping out or not considering university to be a feasible option in the first place. International students are given misleading information on how much it will cost them to live in the UK, which then leads to them being short-changed, far away from home, ineligible for a maintenance loan, and unable to work more than 20 hours a week. Disabled students are faced with an overwhelming level of additional costs, such as diagnoses, medication and equipment like wheelchairs, and often struggle to find student accommodation which is suitable for their needs. Some Muslim students are unable to access maintenance loans for religious reasons, leaving them unable to access higher education. Students who are estranged or care experienced struggle to access maintenance loans and financial support for higher education, and are left particularly stranded when times become tough.
Further Education students and Apprentices are incredibly limited when it comes to the financial support they can access through their education. The apprentice wage is nowhere near enough to live on, and further education students are often discouraged by institutions to take on part time work alongside their studies. Neither FE students nor apprentices have access to any kind of maintenance loans during their studies and grants are few and far between, often determined by individual institutions. With many of these students living alone or having dependents, they are frequently left struggling, which is further perpetuated if they have any disabilities.
Students are frequently forgotten by the government, and seemingly viewed as less important when it comes to financial relief and meaningful support through the Cost of Living crisis. It is unsustainable for students to continue like this.
What changes would we like to see in society to change this?What changes would we like to see in society to change this?
Approaches taken to student support by the government and universities are in urgent need of upheaval. The maintenance loan should be increased as a matter of urgency, to a level which will reasonably and sufficiently cover student living costs. Longer term, there has to be a more robust strategy of ensuring student funding responds to inflation and reflects the changing cost of living, so that students aren’t left behind again. Overall, a more holistic approach to the student experience is needed from the government and from institutions, which must give consideration to student support and funding which keeps up with student need.
The Right to Food campaign is the most robust, feasible mechanism through which to intervene in a crisis of food poverty. The campaign believes that the millions of people currently living in food poverty must be a priority for the Government (Haskel). If the human right of the Right to Food was properly enshrined into UK law, food poverty would be eradicated and food banks would not need to be relied on (Rene Cassin). Furthermore if the Right to Food were enshrined into UK law, it would enable the Government of the day to be held accountable to the delivery of available, accessible and adequate food.
Proper accountability mechanisms for private landlords and accommodation owners is just as important in improving the student experience. Even if maintenance loans were increased, there is nothing stopping property owners from continuously hiking up rent, year after year, beyond the rate of inflation and purely to increase profit. Policy and legislation changes on every level are needed to ensure that the structures exist through which landlords and PBSA owners can be held accountable. This way, if students are being overcharged and forced to live in damp, mouldy properties, the means will exist through which they can challenge their landlords and avoid exploitation. Better records of rent prices, living standards and landlord behaviour would also hand more power back to the renter, through transparency. An accepted and agreed rent cap amongst the student letting market would mean that students are less likely to be exploited, and have a solid point of reference if they feel they are being overcharged. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has shelter as one of the crucial, base physiological needs: as such, proper accountability on student landlords over the quality of housing/PBSAs, and on how much can be charged for staying in them is critical to a safe and liveable student experience.
Minority students who are particularly marginalised by these issues must be given a voice in the room. Attention should be given to working towards equity for these students, who face a whole host of issues that are difficult to understand until you’ve faced them yourself. Disabled students should be given appropriate support in order to be able to foot the extra costs that arise from their disability. International students should be made to feel like they can call the UK their home, by providing the additional support that they cannot access due to choosing to study abroad. Students of faith should not be excluded from higher education for religious reasons; the system needs to change so as to ensure that anyone who wants to study is able to do so without fear of running out of money, going hungry, or not having a roof over their heads. 
FE students and apprentices need to be given the same attention as HE students when it comes to financial support. There needs to be a complete change in the way that student finance and funding works for these students, because as it stands, the support is minimal and whatever income they receive doesn’t even begin to cover the costs.
More devolved powers to regional and local government would aid the proper support of student needs. Student circumstances, whilst dire overall, do differ quite dramatically in different parts of the country, with certain issues hitting certain areas more severely. Devolved responsibility for student issues would ensure that students are properly supported for the issues they’re actually facing, instead of the current one size fits all approach (which doesn’t actually fit anyone).
Fundamentally, the change we would like to see is that students are viewed and treated as equal members of society when it comes to living standards. Even before the Cost of Living crisis, it was an expectation of student life that we would put up with a lower standard of living for the duration of our studies. Now, it has become quite clear that there are enormous gaps in available support for students, which urgently need addressing.
What action could students, Students’ unions and members take?On funding, NUS should push for a full review of the student maintenance loan system and how it is allocated, and advocate for further financial support for groups who are particularly affected. Advocating for maintenance loan to no longer be based off parent/carer salaryPush for adjustments to be made for students who choose to take a sabbaticalGovernment grants to be introduced for student groups who need extra financial support, such as commuter students, international students, postgraduate students and students with disabilitiesMaintenance grant to be created for FE students, including additional housing and travel grantsEncourage government to progress work on introducing interest-free loans for Muslim students who cannot access maintenance loan due to Sharia lawEquality in tuition fees between home and international studentsApprentices to be paid the National Living WagePostgraduate students to be paid the National Living WageReduced means-testing and conditionality, and improved student eligibility, for Universal Credit and all other benefitsHardship loan eligibility to be broadened in institutionsSalary savings from strike action should be reallocated to student hardship funding as standarFull transparency on additional course costs before applicationTuition fees to be all-inclusive of additional course costs Universities to publish accurate and up-to-date cost of living information which is easy to find on their website, specific to the town/city and updated annually before recruitment periodsWorking cap to be removed for international studentsBetter access to financial support for disabled international studentsAccess to free ADHD and autism assessments
On housing, NUS should campaign to set national standards on student renting, and provide support to SUs on running their own housing campaigns. National student rent price benchmark and campaign for a rent capSupport Students’ Unions in creating rent directories using FOIs and public formsPush for landlords to be regulated and push universities to set up vetting for landlordsEducate students on their renters’ rights and the standard of housing they’re entitled toPush for an introduction of legislation to allow for a more developed scrutiny against malpractice in private landlordismProvide support to Unions on making housing advice accessible to all studentsCreate an incentive programme for good practice to fight alienation in student/landlord relations. Work with SUs to push for rent freezes at universitiesCampaign for housing costs to return to pre-pandemic levelsWork with housing charities, local authorities, universities and PBSA providers to encourage and build a positive student renting environmentPush for universities to introduce accessible guarantor schemes for all students who need them
On food, NUS should campaign for the Right to Food to be enshrined into UK law, and build support systems for Students’ Unions running their own food security initiatives. Engage with other groups who are campaigning on the Right to Food to become lawPush universities to mandate and provide funding for their SUs to have food banks, and create guidance resources on how to set up food banksProvide guidance on how SUs can encourage students to use free food initiatives if they need them, and remove stigmaProvide guidance on launching schemes such as Too Good To Go on campusUniversities should provide free to access education on how students can have an affordable, nutritious diet which works for their accessibility needsHelp SUs push their universities to collaborate with food ledgers on campus to reallocate food waste towards ending student food poverty. Set up local organisations of SU food banks
NUS should use their position to lobby the government on students’ right to basic human rights.Take legal action against the government on their exploitation of studentsUse the general election and make student food, funding & shelter part of the narrativeUse the APPG for students to lobby on these issuesReallocate NUS membership fees to institutions who have funding issues for setting up initiatives which address any of the issues within this policyWork with charities or membership organisations who represent intersectional communities to pull out their learned and lived experience
As a movement, we should all take responsibility for being bolder and making as much noise as we can about the injustices that students have been facing for a very long time. This is a year where a lot can change in terms of how our country is run, and we have a unique opportunity to influence the agenda and put student issues firmly on it. NUS has a big part to play in leading this action, but it’s important that students and Students’ Unions get on board too.

We would like to extend our thanks to all those involved in submitting, developing and passing these motions. The future of the Right to Food campaign is bright, and strengthened hugely b the energy of students. Thank you!

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