Food banks are now part of the fabric of our society but we must work together to create a future where they are not needed, writes SNP MP Neil Gray.
On Wednesday morning, I and my colleagues across the House of Commons will be kicking off campaigns for re-election as our country races towards the polls.
The Tories want this to be a Brexit election, and nothing more.
But that’s not the only issue at stake. As the SNP’s work & pensions lead, I’ve spoken out about the impact of austerity policies pushing people into hardship and forcing people to food banks.
It’s why the Scottish Parliament has, time and time again, put in place measures to protect people on low incomes from the worst excesses of Westminster’s cuts.
Today, landmark research from the Trussell Trust not only confirms the problems I’ve raised, but shows just how crucial it is we take action.
State of Hunger is the most in-depth study to date on hunger and the drivers of food-bank use in the UK. It is shocking to read such detailed evidence which so clearly outlines how far Westminster has fallen from considering the compassion and dignity of the people it serves.
The report makes it clear that we are clearly not shielding from harm the people in our society the system was designed to protect.
Nearly three-quarters of people at food banks have a health issue with half reporting mental health issues. One in six people referred to food banks had a physical disability and it was most horrifying to read that more than ten per cent had a learning disability.
With the SNP leading Holyrood, Scotland is creating policies which put people’s dignity and rights at their heart. Those of us running as MPs will be taking this fight to Westminster – we won’t let the appalling miscarriages of social justice inflicted on people be swept under the carpet.
Nowhere else to turn
Our benefits system was created to provide financial support to any of us that need it – yet most households who are forced to a food bank are either waiting for, or receiving, Universal Credit, highlighting issues with this system.
Here in Westminster, we need to see real action on Universal Credit. Labour has suggested scrapping the new benefits system. This is short-term, headline-grabbing thinking – not an evaluation of what would make the biggest difference to people affected.
So what would make the biggest difference? While there are many issues to be addressed so we can ensure benefit payments cover the cost of living, the first priority must be to end the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.
Food banks have quickly become part of the fabric of our society because there is nowhere else to turn. We cannot stand for this. We must work together to create a future where food banks are not needed – the charity sector should not be expected to carry out the role of the state in protecting people from destitution.
Westminster should be looking to Scotland when considering how to fix its broken system – now more than ever, as candidates start thinking what kind of government they want to be part of.
We have shown time and time again that we can improve the lives of people facing the sharpest end of poverty because we listen to the experiences of people affected.
State of Hunger makes it clear: if we want to put an end to this food bank crisis, we must ensure everyone has a dignified experience when interacting with the benefits system.
Neil Gray is the SNP MP for Airdrie & Shotts and the party's lead on work & pensions and inclusion & wellbeing