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Every day in local supermarkets…


The good people of Leith put donations into receptacles destined for the foodbank. Twice a week they are collected and taken to a warehouse in Stewartfield where they are sorted into packs for singles, couples, small families and larger families.

From there the packs are taken to five distribution centres, all in church halls, for people who need them. From Monday to Friday there’s a foodbank open somewhere in Leith. It’s a slick operation.

People who need the food need first a voucher, issued by one of around thirty agencies in Leith. This system stops the distribution centres from becoming help-yourself-for-free outlets.

There are often other things that can be taken: nappies, toiletries, books, maybe odd items of clothing.

Working in the same system is the Pantry, a membership club which is oversubscribed at present but is looking to expand.

Members pay £4.50 a week, multiply that by five and you would equal prices they would pay in the shops. One member wrote in a recent questionnaire: ‘It’s a wee haven of humanity.’

Another wrote: ‘It’s eased the worry at the end of the month… If I have enough money to pay the bills and still feed my child.’

Donations in kind have decreased since the pandemic, and financial donations have increased. They pay for the van, the warehouse, and for orders that fill out and balance donations.

And there are two part-time organisers to be paid. Stock control takes time, and around thirty volunteers need to be organised.

Many good things come from charity work: members of our community meet people they might not otherwise come across, which is enriching and rewarding for all. Volunteering can be a welcome purposeful task in what might otherwise be empty days. And a present necessity is seen to.

But we can’t solve food insecurity without tackling the wider problems of production, low wages in the food sector, profiteering by big supermarkets, and procurement rules which hamper councils being able to use more small and local producers.

The Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation project has fine intentions to address some of these issues. Edible Edinburgh is part of our council’s response. You probably haven’t heard of either of them. Why not?

They both need to be much more public. They need to engage properly with us. They need to be boldly pursued and have robust political support.

And food poverty can’t be separated from other forms of poverty. Low wages; poor and inadequate housing, too often on precarious renting terms; insecure employment; schools that are struggling through no fault of the dedicated teachers.

DWP figures show that over 12,000 Edinburgh children under 16 were living in relative poverty in the year to March 2023. That’s one in seven children. How is this acceptable?

Barnardo’s chief executive Lynn Perry says: “Living in poverty means that children are missing out on opportunities and the activities that make childhood fun and support their development. The government needs to urgently focus on reducing child poverty.”

She goes on: “That should start with ending the two-child limit - the sibling penalty on child benefits.”

She’s right: the situation is down to political choice and political failure. Since the founding of the welfare state in 1947, the consensus has been that the state has a duty to ensure everyone has good, safe housing, and no-one is in poverty.

In the 1980s the Right to Buy legislation hollowed out affordable housing. Although this was repealed in 2016 in Scotland, the damage had been done.

A fair taxation system – from each according to means, to each according to need – is the basic deal for citizenship.

Fourteen years ago, George Osborne and David Cameron talked about ‘strivers and scivers’ and ‘The Big Society’.

Even ‘strivers’ – people who are in work – can’t afford food. And passing responsibility for feeding ‘the poor’ onto the charity sector is a dereliction of the state’s responsibility.

This charity-based ‘Big Society’ model spares the wealthy from their responsibilities. While they accrue ever more wealth, it’s ordinary people who find a little extra in their purses to pass on to those in need.

The charity model depends on referrals and rationing. And, however lightly it’s borne, there’s a degree of stigma. Being dependent on charity isn’t comfortable or dignified.

When people have enough cash, they have agency to manage and choose for themselves.

Instead of politicians turning up at food banks for photo-ops, they would be better employed bringing an end to the many injustices that are built into the legal/administrative framework.

These matters are within the remit of both Holyrood and Westminster – and the Council plays a part.

There are more food banks than branches of MacDonalds, in the sixth richest country in the world. What have we come to?

Leithers: don’t stop being generous to the food bank. But let’s do something about the root problems.

Demand of our councillors, our MSP and MP that, very quickly, food banks will not be needed.

They know what to do. ■


There are more food banks than branches of MacDonalds in the sixth richest country in the world



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