Ewan Gurr: Food for thought from Scottish breadline

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One day that will forever be etched in my mind is when I first met David and Suzanne. David was a child psychiatric nurse who had been head-hunted for a lucrative job in central London and Suzanne was a support worker.

They had a beautiful house, two great jobs, a young son and were the perfect poster couple for the middle-class family.

Things could not have been better until David took ill at work and Suzanne lost her job as the impact of the recession began to bite.

Unable to return to work due to ill-health or maintain mortgage repayments, they had to leave their home and return to Scotland.

They are highly articulate, highly intelligent and highly qualified and possibly the nicest couple I have ever met. They are certainly not the kind of people you expect to walk through the door of a food bank.

I could feel a lump in my throat for the duration of time it took Suzanne to tell me about the domino effect of crises that had beset her family. She told me how both of them had foregone meals consistently over a period of two years to ensure their son could eat and how she was forced to give up breastfeeding their second son after four weeks due to malnutrition.

The Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould was in Scotland for some meetings last week. During one particular meeting with a Member of Parliament in Edinburgh, we were told that the British Red Cross had expressed concern about politicians drawing parallels between their work in war-torn and poverty-stricken overseas countries and food poverty in the United Kingdom.

Chris and I had to intervene and we shared about people in Scotland, like David and Suzanne, who face a financial famine and the horror of hidden hunger on a daily basis.

This week, the Trussell Trust revealed that 10,489 people received a three-day supply of emergency food from one of our Scottish food banks in December and the primary referral reason cited was low income.

I recently invited a Member of the Scottish Parliament, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, to visit his local foodbank to meet some of the people who utilise food banks.

Of the five people sitting around the table, four were from working households.

As an organisation, we have been encouraging policy-makers across the spectrum to prioritise the long-term reduction of food poverty in the run up to and beyond the General Election.

The best way for us to identify and implement policies that will ease the pressure men, women and children across Scotland experience is to interact with the people experiencing that pressure.

Ewan Gurr is the Scotland network manager for the Trussell Trust and is responsible for overseeing 48 foodbanks based in 27 local authorities in Scotland. He is the former project manager of Dundee food bank, which has been operating for nine years and is currently Scotland’s busiest operation, reaching over 6000 people per year.