Bethany Biggar: Good Food Nation shouldn’t need handouts

One of the food banks run by the Trussell Trust. Picture: Neil Hanna
One of the food banks run by the Trussell Trust. Picture: Neil Hanna
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I’ve worked on the frontline of Edinburgh’s food banks for more than three years and what I have seen, particularly in the past few months, is really worrying. The food banks have become much, much busier – the fight just to survive is becoming visibly harder for people.

I’m writing this now because the government has announced it has extended the deadline of the Good Food Nation consultation to Thursday.

The aim of this consultation is to engage people across the nation in building a food policy that would encourage Scotland to become a nation of food enthusiasts, taking keen interest in the origins of food and making sure it’s environmentally sound.

A lot of noise has been made around these proposals, which could be turned into law. The policy’s objectives are ambitious and far-reaching with the hope other nations would eventually look towards Scotland as a leading example of a “good food nation”.

But if Scotland wants to truly lead by example and build a food policy it can be genuinely proud of, it must take into account that right now thousands of people across Scotland cannot afford any food at all.

This month, anti-poverty partnership, A Menu for Change, shed more light on the scale of the problem and for the first time we were able to see how many food parcels were handed out by independent food banks, not just food banks like mine in the Trussell Trust’s network.

Almost half a million food parcels were given out by both sets of food banks in Scotland over 18 months. While the aims of the consultation – to make sure people have good food to eat – are important, the government must first address the basic issues causing poverty before jumping the gun to good food nation status.

All sorts of people come through the doors of our food bank. People who are working, people on benefits for a range of reasons, but there’s a common theme appearing: many are now trapped in poverty.

Far too many people are left with no options because the cost of living has moved so far beyond what their benefits, minimum wage and zero-hours contracts can afford.

Many people I meet are not necessarily in a crisis – but they consistently don’t have enough to afford the basics. They’re looking for the cheapest options – but can’t even access them. After rent and bills are paid, they have nothing. Living in poverty has become the norm for thousands of Scots. Cleaning and sanitary products are becoming a luxury for more and more people, leaving food banks to pick up the pieces and provide more than food within their emergency supplies.

The wait for a first Universal Credit payment has only exacerbated this further.

This is not how it should be – scraping by on the bare minimum, unable to afford the most basic food, let alone high quality food. With this in mind, the government’s plans must focus on the steps in between achieving good food nation status and the situation with which we are faced.

We know it doesn’t have to be like this. In a real good food nation, the benefits system would provide enough money to cover basics like good food, and people could get work that’s secure and pays fairly.

If the government acts quickly and makes these priorities central to its food policy, we could create a future without food banks.

Food banks are providing absolutely vital, compassionate support in communities across the country – but no charity can ever replace the dignity of having long-term financial security.

We want to ensure everyone has the opportunity to have their voices heard by the Scottish Government so we’ve created a simple form to help make the process of responding to the consultation easier. Moving forward, we would like to see the process made more accessible so everyone can truly have a say.

Scotland can’t be a good food nation while so many people go hungry – let’s use this consultation as an opportunity to make sure everyone can afford good food.

You can find out more about the Good Food Nation Bill on our website, https://www.trusselltrust.org/good-food-nation/, or take action by filling in the form you find on the site.

Bethany Biggar is operations manager at Edinburgh Food Project