Last week the Trussell Trust released figures on the numbers accessing their foodbank network in Scotland during December 2014. At well over 10,000 people – it was the highest ever number of individuals recorded in need of emergency food aid in one month in this country.
In previous columns I’ve noted the acceleration of demand for basic food supplies – particularly affecting Glasgow and our major cities – but reflected broadly across the nation, as unacceptable in our advanced economy.
Worse still, an alarming counter-foodbank agenda has spread in tandem with the outrage felt by many at the skyrocketing numbers. The counter agenda runs thus – far from it being the fault of the system under which we operate that people are stricken by the most degrading forms of poverty – apparently the headlines surrounding food banks have increased awareness amongst “benefit junkies” to get a free meal whilst spending their hard earned on fags, booze and down the bookies.
Operating in the charity world as I do, I can confirm that this argument is complete rubbish and belies a total ignorance of the experience of attending a foodbank or any other charity outreach centre for emergency aid.
People in need of emergency parcels are at their wits end. We are talking here of aid for Scots to have the most basic of supplies the rest of us take for granted.
The numbers of people accessing foodbanks as an emergency measure is bad enough. Recent reports have demonstrated that those in employment are also now faced with receiving food parcels. The ‘working poor’ they have been coined. Perhaps you or someone you know falls into this category.
Christmas and winter is a time toughest for our most vulnerable – the old and the young – but at its heart remains the highlight of the year for children. The coming of Santa Claus and the pressure on parents to buy presents in 2014 was further compounded by unscrupulous payday lending firms offering an ‘advance’ in lieu of an inflated payment or stinging fee later on. Ruthless Westminster benefit sanctions and these sharks taking advantage of the economically disadvantaged have driven people yet further into poverty.
The era of austerity, kickstarted under Gordon Brown and developed by a severe Tory agenda, continues apace.
Only last week 28 Scottish Labour MPs voted with the Tories in favour of further austerity measures.
An outsider may in good faith ask – how exactly do the Labour Party stand up for Scotland?
And the answer of course is – they do not.
The question must be asked of Labour and the other Westminster parties in the forthcoming election – what will they do to address the poverty ongoing and being made worse by their policies?
A Glasgow councillor told me recently they’d just dealt with a case where an elderly constituent had contacted them because his house was riddled with damp and was desperate for a new home.
The damp aside – the councillor raised concern with their constituent at the fact the heating in the elderly man’s house wasn’t on – in the middle of one of the coldest snaps Glasgow has experienced for a few winters.
And the answer – “I either eat or heat”.
Post-referendum, more so than in previous years do Scots realise we are in the grips of a Westminster austerity agenda most of us did not vote for.
Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, are all stymied because with a government in charge of our economy which puts in place policies to cater for the UK capital and centre of wealth – we will never have the real levers to recharge our poorest areas.
If we take a back seat after the No vote, and hope for a UK government with policies designed to lift Scots out of the poverty cycle we will be waiting forever.
The ‘working poor’ driven to foodbanks and the elderly gentleman forced to choose between heating or eating in his damp infested home – should be at the forefront of our thoughts in Scotland in this election when we say “Westminster – you are not working”.