Dundee has been my home for almost two decades. It is known for a lot of things but my organisation – The Trussell Trust – revealed this week that our network of foodbanks in Scotland gave out enough food to feed the entire population of my city for at least three days.
The number of three-day supplies distributed to men, women and children topped 145,000 and the reasons underpinning this growing need are even greater cause for concern.
We have seen child psychiatrists lose work due to ill health, redundant oil and gas workers struggling to make ends meet and even a former boxing champion unable to get work coming to our foodbanks. John Steinbeck once said that “a sad soul kills quicker than the germ” and there is a great sadness that closes in on the comfortable when circumstances destabilise their financial resilience.
Alex competed for Great Britain in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games in the 1980s and was a British champion. Following his sporting success he moved to New Zealand where he was married with children and worked as a HGV driver. He came home to Scotland after his marriage broke down but he struggled to find work and fell into depression, considering taking his life before he went to the foodbank. The words of Steinbeck resonate with Alex and many others.
For the first time in our history, The Trussell Trust in Scotland has seen low income become the biggest single issue driving people to foodbanks. This is reflected also in all the other parts of the UK. This is unsurprising given recent food price increases and benefit delays attributed to the rollout of Universal Credit, which is crippling families and leading to devastating consequences.
William Beveridge, the founder of the welfare state once said: “Adventure came not from the half-starved but those who were well fed enough to feel ambition.” I believe Beveridge wholeheartedly believed in flexing the statutory muscle to ensure that social security enables social mobility. However, there is a growing hopelessness in parts of the country where welfare changes intended to ease the pressure end up making life more difficult.
That pressure is also felt among our foodbank volunteers and managers, without whom the work of preventing starvation and malnutrition across Scotland would grind to a halt. It is in foodbanks where questions are asked about Scottish Government money to support frontline services or the provision of Scottish Welfare Fund advisors to get cash in the pockets of poor people.
Council elections and another general election may be on the horizon but the Scottish Government still needs a clear and coherent strategy on tackling hunger and food poverty that can be implemented both at local and national level.
Ewan Gurr is Scotland network manager for The Trussell Trust, which works with churches to launch foodbanks across the UK.