FOOD BANKS SYMPTOMS OF A WIDER CAUSE.
The Scottish welfare committee heard evidence last week from two social researchers from Heriot Watt University. Dr. Nicola Livingstone and Dr. Filip Sosento presented the findings of two years of research into an overview of the providers of food aid in Scotland There evidence backs up the voices of users of food aid in Scotland about the impact of welfare reform and benefit sanctions on the most vulnerable in society.
As part of their research they interviewed food bank providers from all over Scotland from rural Angus to Glasgow City. All of them said that food aid use had increased since benefit sanctions had become more serious and with the introduction of welfare reforms in April 2012. They pointed out that Lord Freud’s statement that the use of food banks had increased before welfare reforms was “inaccurate”
Of all the food aid providers the Trussell Fund remains the biggest. In Glasgow 20% of food aid providers were community based. Throughout the rest of Scotland all the providers were the Trussell Fund. This is concerning. As previously reported with their links to the Conservatives and churches their aim is emergency food provision only. They will only provide users with a three day of supply of food three times a year. What do people do to survive after this? Only in Glasgow City can people in need rely on a regular supply of food.
Groups like the Maryhill foodbank have gone beyond the limitations set by the Trussell Fund. In partnership with local groups and churches they provide weekly food and a cafe which provides hot food. For those that cannot afford to cook, this may be their only access of a hot meal. Those who rely on food banks are different from the users of soup kitchens, they usually have their own home but their impact has been slashed for a number of reasons. The evidence presented to the committee was that people in their own home find that they cannot afford the basic essentials of food and even being able to afford the energy costs of cooking a meal. What a society we live in.The safety net we take for granted is being torn apart. Crises payments are now being administered by local authorities. However those whose benefits have been sanctioned are not elegible to apply. Benefit sanctions have almost tripled since 2008 and they are becoming much harsher. Many people are left without any income for up to three months. The only means of support they have is food aid or using a soup kit
Food aid providers rely on donations from global corporations for food they can supply Some may call this global responsibility others global guilt. Politicians of all colours may murmur that food aid should not exist but are always happy to pose for pictures in the local press on why we should donate a can. Most of the coverage given is to food banks provided by the Trussell Fund meanwhile some food aid providers are running out of food. This week in Glasgow sees Glasgow Central Station being used as a depot for donations of food as they have ran out of provisions.
Food aid is becoming part of the safety net. Social workers, psychiatric nurses and those working with the most vulnerable as pat of statutory services now as a matter of course refer those they support to food aid providers. Politicians condemn them but are happy to use them as a photo opportunity. We on the cusp of an Independent Scotland have to ask ourselves do we wish to go down the route of America and Canada and quietly, slowly, but carefully allow them to be seen as part of the welfare state. In Canada the Freedom 90 group campaign completely against the use of food banks and insist that people having enough to eat is a human right and the very basic that a government should provide for its citizens. Writing this I reflect that things are getting worse even since the Voice reported on food aid use a few months ago. The report from social researchers backs up all the anecdotal evidence. I hope those in power will listen to the report, not just quote how terrible food aid is.. Our aim should be to share that they should not be necessary and campign for an Indepndent Scotland where they have no place. That is the vision we have a rsponsibility to share