Foodbanks are the whistleblower for welfare cuts

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Ewan Gurr would love to live in a Scotland without foodbanks but says right now they are an essential ally in the battle against welfare cuts

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11th July 2016 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Recently my local MP phoned to inform me that he had started a campaign to end my employment. He had just returned to his office following Business Questions where he publicly announced that I would “be delighted to become unemployed”.

Well, if the goal to end the need for foodbanks within the life of the current parliament is to be achieved – as outlined in the recent report produced by Independent Working Group on Food Poverty – I should be signing on for Jobseekers Allowance by May 2021. Job done.

Ewan Gurr

Ewan Gurr

Our enemy is food poverty and the army of 2,700 volunteers in Trussell Trust foodbanks, and other foodbanks, in Scotland are our greatest allies

In the weeks that have followed, I have reflected upon our work and come to some conclusions.

If we are authentic about enshrining dignity in our effort to tackle hunger, we need to do so in our language around foodbanks. In the same way as we would never demonise trade unions for amplifying the impact of unethical workplace practices, we must recognise that our enemy is never the people who volunteer their time to serve their fellow men and women.

On the contrary, foodbanks have become the whistleblower when welfare is weak. Our enemy is food poverty and the army of 2,700 volunteers in Trussell Trust foodbanks, and other foodbanks, in Scotland are our greatest allies in the fight against that enemy.

The Scottish Government has, I believe, struck the right balance by resourcing statutory, as well as voluntary, measures that mitigate in the form of £33 million for the Scottish Welfare Fund and £1 million for foodbanks. When First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and I met in Dundee foodbank last year, she clearly stated: “The Scottish Government wants to see us live in a society where we don’t need foodbanks but as long as welfare cuts are driving more people into food poverty we need to support foodbanks on the frontline.” It is impossible to transition from provision to prevention without supporting both.

However, as outlined in the report, we believe there is another step in that path from provision to prevention which involves the continued support of living wage accreditation as well as consideration of a top-up to Child Benefit.

The architect of universal welfare provision, William Beveridge, once defended his proposals saying: “adventure comes not from the half-starved but those well fed enough to feel ambition.” That includes not only paying fairly those who work, but adequately supporting those seeking work and the best way to support people back to work is by making welfare work.

Those of us who worked together as part of the Independent Working Group are aware of the challenge. We collectively made 19 recommendations we hope to see implemented. However, I am realistic enough to know that the earliest recorded historical accounts of food poverty and food provision in the United Kingdom date back to the thirteenth century. Our recommendations offer a pathway but not a panacea.