In our guest blog post, Brenda Black from Edinburgh Community Food gives us reasons on why we should respond to the Scottish Government consultation paper on ‘Ending the need for food banks’ and gives us a few tips to help us.
How does the draft national plan hope to succeed in ending the need for food banks?
We recognise the important and laudable work being done by food banks across Scotland in their role of supporting people through acute crisis, and the passion, dedication and care of staff and volunteers. Ultimately, however, we want to move towards a society that has little-to-no requirement for food banks, where everyone has a sufficient and secure income that meets their needs, with food banks being a last resort for those in need. The main focus of the draft national plan to end the need for food banks is to address insufficient and insecure incomes and support people in a dignified manner. It aims to do this through fair work and wages, social security, and by reducing the cost of living. Where a crisis arises, the intention is to provide support by giving financial help (‘Cash First’), along with money advice. Where financial help isn’t immediately possible and food is required, there is a need to provide this in a way that ensures dignity, reduces future need, and minimises dependency.
Why we should share our views
Food is something that unites us all. It is also something that brings us together – the idea of ‘breaking bread around the table’ – and, as we at Edinburgh Community Food know, food can serve as a vehicle for supporting social connection, inclusion and our mental wellbeing, assisting in family bonding, improving our health and increasing skills. Having access to appropriate, nourishing food helps us all to live well and with live with dignity. We all know about food, and many of us in community organisations have experience of trying to support people experiencing crisis – we may have supported people with food parcels, referred people to get a food parcel, or aided those in need with relevant signposting. Indeed, we may also have experienced food insecurity ourselves.
Ending the need for food banks is a difficult challenge – and quite an unpopular idea in some circles, where it is seen as a ‘simple answer to a complex problem’ – but there won’t be one single way to address this. Complex problems require complex solutions; however, as we’re all passionate about food and how we support people we will all have many ideas that, if brought together, can make a real difference. So, if you respond to the consultation (and I really hope you do), even if you can’t answer each question, all these ideas will add up.
If you want to discuss the consultation and want to talk to a community food initiative, please contact us at Edinburgh Community Food. My email address is below. There are also contact details on the Scottish Government website if you have any questions about the process of responding to the consultation.
What things might be useful to think about?
When we plan how to make sure people can eat well, we might talk about the importance of access, affordability, adequacy, action and attitude. We can apply these ‘a’s to some of the plans in the consultation paper:
The aim of the draft national plan is to ensure people have access to enough money – and food to spend it on – so they don’t need to resort to a food bank. The draft national plan outlines a range of social security payments that are available. These include ‘Best Start Grants & Food Payments’ and the ‘Scottish Welfare Fund’, amongst several others, and they can make a real difference. But how easy is it to find out about these and access them? Could access to welfare support be improved and how can we better support people through the processes of accessing funds? What is (if any) the role of community food initiatives in supporting signposting or access to welfare support? And what about access to healthy, appropriate food or the opportunity to develop food skills?
Making sure we provide our household with a healthy balanced diet can be expensive, especially if we lack the skills to choose, prepare and store. A basic wage may not be enough to cover the cost of buying foods that meet a healthy balanced diet. How can the plan make sure that people earn enough money to buy good food? Is legislation needed?
The plan discusses the need for ‘holistic support’ to prevent future food bank use. We agree that access to cash does not solve everything and does not suit everyone, and that ‘simply providing food’ is not good enough. But, how can we ensure adequate support for people who have needs beyond immediate cash and food, such as people with mental health support needs, learning disabilities, experiencing domestic abuse, or recovering from addiction (as well as those without a bank account and no access to credit)?
Adequacy can also apply to when emergency food aid parcels (or food vouchers) are used as a last resort. How can we ensure the food provided (or cash level/use of voucher) is adequate (and acceptable) in terms of choice, good nutrition, culturally appropriate or suitable for dietary requirements? And that food is provided with dignity?
Attitudes towards people experiencing poverty may be better than they used to be; however, more needs to be done to continue the breakdown of stigma and encourage a more empathic approach, including around the conversations we have with our community members. This may help mobilise people and ensure more support for taking action.
In the last decade, people have made a valuable contribution to supporting their communities by volunteering and providing donations to food banks. Many of these people have given more than just a food parcel: they may provide a social connection, or have supported or signposted people to other services. How can their energy, commitment and skills be used to support the ideas in the consultation plans?
Finally, we need to make sure action is taken after the consultation is over. Good ideas alone are not enough to solve the problem.
So, get yourself a cup of tea, have a read of the consultation paper, think about who you might need to speak to get help with it or to get their views, put some time in your diary for after Christmas to make sure it gets done by the closing date of 25th January 2022.
Brenda Black, CEO, Edinburgh Community Food
You can access the Scottish Government consultation on Ending the need for food banks here