Four leading anti-poverty groups make the case how to support low income families in the long-term
The last year has shown the deep well of compassion that exists in communities across Scotland. At a time of crisis, people across the country have stepped up to support others through the worst of the economic storm. One of the most visible aspects of this compassion is the work of food banks, that have sought to support people in meeting some of their most basic needs. Their work is emblematic of the Scotland we all believe in; one where people look out for and protect one another.
Yet we must be clear, the fact that these food banks are necessary in the first place is wrong, and represents an injustice that cannot continue. In a compassionate country, how can it be that the Trussell Trust is facing such demand that it is handing out one emergency food parcel every two-and-a-half minutes? In a society where we believe in decency, how can it be right that our economy is driving so many people into such hardship? Yet we have let this happen.
And while the grip of hardship has tightened for many over the last year, as partners in A Menu for Change – a project which strongly reinforced the need for income-based solutions – we know that even before the pandemic, our inadequate social security system and labour market meant that too many people in Scotland were facing acute income crisis and food insecurity. For too many, the pandemic’s end will not signal the end of their daily struggle to afford the basics that we all expect and have a right to.
So it is critical that the 129 MSPs elected to the Scottish Parliament on 6 May place solving poverty – and ending the need for food banks – at the heart of their agenda. This means, more than anything, ensuring that everyone in Scotland has the income they need to stay afloat. The answer to food insecurity is not food, but cash. Steps must be taken to increase the value of Scottish social security payments like the Scottish Child Payment, and to bolster the adequacy and availability of cash-based responses to income crisis like the Scottish Welfare Fund. We must also increase expectations of businesses to ensure, at an absolute minimum, work protects people from poverty.
The next Scottish Government’s plans to deliver Scotland’s legal child poverty targets , together with the local child poverty action reports that are the responsibility of local authorities and health boards, will be critical in driving the change we need. But we also need a dedicated action plan to be developed in the first year of the Scottish Parliament to specifically end the need for food banks.
None of us can or should accept a Scotland in which so many are so locked into poverty, or where so many are having to turn to food banks to access the food they need. After all, Scotland has committed to ending hunger by 2030. Promises and statements of concern are no longer enough: if we want to end the need for food banks, we must act to achieve it.
So those who enter Holyrood following the election must bear the moral duty to right this wrong. Compassionate communities are the bedrock of our society, but we also want stronger and more just communities where everyone has the cash, rights and food they need before they are in crisis. The next Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to help make those communities – and that more just Scotland – a reality. It is an opportunity that must be taken.
Peter Kelly, director of Poverty Alliance
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam (Scotland)
John Dickie, director, Child Poverty Action Group
Pete Ritchie, executive director, Nourish Scotland