Marcus Rashford should inspire MSPs to 'do what is right' about hunger – Elaine Smith MSP
“I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right” – Marcus Rashford.
Marcus Rashford can be proud of his role in campaigning for schoolchildren to receive meals in England throughout the summer holidays, and for highlighting the struggle that parents are facing. The Manchester United striker made an impact on the pitch at a young age, but it is off the pitch where he has made the biggest difference.
His inspiring campaign, rooted in personal experience, is a reminder of the role we can all play. That a footballer had to play a leading role in forcing this latest Tory U-turn is a stark reminder that when it comes to food, we still do not have our priorities right.
The issues raised by Rashford are not only relevant in Tory-run England. Scottish schoolchildren only received the same confirmation from Nicola Sturgeon on the same day.
In the weeks following lockdown, the Scottish Government delayed several important proposals indefinitely. The Good Food Nation Bill and a bill to restrict promotional sales of unhealthy foods had been well supported by campaign groups and communities and should have been a priority for the Parliament.
End the dithering
Our approach to food must be informed by one simple fact; food is a human right. A campaign movement has emerged calling for the right to food to be enshrined in law.
Support for this is not limited to Scottish Labour. Several MSPs, including SNP members, have registered support. Why then does the Scottish Government meet this call to action with dither and delay?
Lockdown has placed unprecedented challenges on the food sector. Families have faced sudden economic insecurity, with many forced to seek support to feed their children.
However, while our attention will turn to how to rebuild our economy, we should not forget that for many families the experience of relying on food parcels is not new.
I have been appalled by food banks and the number of food parcels handed out. While we must applaud the efforts of those who donate and volunteer, in a wealthy country like Scotland food banks should not exist. While they do, we are failing to give food the priority it deserves.
Holyrood must be bold
The people of Scotland had high hopes for the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The Scottish Parliament has the power to make a substantial improvement in standards of living. This is not a time to kick difficult discussions about reforming society into the long grass.
It’s time to be bold, and to make the changes our society has long required, and the Scottish Parliament’s powers must be used to deliver that change.
This week I am lodging a proposal for a bill to enshrine the right to food into law and create an independent statutory body with oversight for the food sector.
For my Scottish Labour colleagues and I, there can be no higher priority than achieving a future free from hunger.
It’s time for the Scottish Parliament to do what is right, as Marcus Rashford did.
Elaine Smith is a Scottish Labour MSP for Central Scotland
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