Think food banks are a scandal? Here’s how to #ChallengePoverty – Ewan Aitken

I was at a great celebration event in the Scottish Parliament this past week, marking the ­amazing achievement of Cyrenians Fareshare depot in delivering one million meals in the past year alone, using surplus food from supermarkets and other food suppliers – perfectly good food which would otherwise go to landfill.
The growth of food bank use over the last ten years is a scandal, says Ewan Aitken. Picture: Lisa FergusonThe growth of food bank use over the last ten years is a scandal, says Ewan Aitken. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The growth of food bank use over the last ten years is a scandal, says Ewan Aitken. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Our small team of staff and volunteers redistribute it to 138 charities and community groups – such as community lunch clubs, food banks, homeless shelters and supported accommodation – which help those facing food insecurity.

In a just and compassionate society, everybody should have dignified access to good quality, nutritious food. The negative impact of food insecurity cannot be understated – the poor mental and physical health and well-being, the sheer isolation, and the knock-on effect for the individual and their relationships with those around them. In this day and age, in one of the richest countries in the world, no one should have to choose between putting dinner on the table for ­themselves and their family, or whether to pay the rent. No one should have to go hungry.

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But many people in Scotland face that tough reality every single day. Edinburgh is an affluent city – a globally renowned centre of creativity, knowledge and innovation. Yet here, in Scotland’s capital, many are grappling with a rising tide of poverty, barely treading water to stay afloat. One in five people are unable to afford the necessities of a basic standard of living – trapped in a precarious existence and unable to plan ahead.

Ewan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians ScotlandEwan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians Scotland
Ewan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians Scotland
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We know poverty is a significant driver of homelessness – it’s why Cyrenians tackle food poverty through our Good Food projects like Fareshare, our Community Pantries and Community Cook Clubs. Beyond the savings for the folk and the good food they receive, we know that access to community life and support is vital, and can be the first step towards real and lasting positive change. 

The growth of food bank use over the last ten years as a response by charities and community groups to tackle the emergency we face (and, let’s be honest – this is an emergency) is a scandal. The efforts of these ­dedicated individuals coming together to help their fellow citizens when the state has failed them, shows that our communities have a rich wellspring of compassion to draw from.

Don’t let food banks become normal

But we do not want to see a ­situation where food banks become the new normal. This is about ­placing dignity at the heart of all our responses.

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It means moving beyond the response of emergency food provision and giving people control over how and where they access food. It means listening to those who have experienced these tough realities and involving them at every stage. As an organisation that is person-centred and works by building trusted relationships, we want people to want to come to a Community Cook Club, and not have to.

A report released this week by A Menu For Change has contributed greatly by listening to people to discover how their circumstances have changed over time and identifying how their fight for a life free from hunger, and fear of it, can be supported. We must all work together – as fellow citizens and as organisations in the public, private, and third sectors – to create broad, systemic change: a right to food enshrined in Scots Law; making sure that work pays and ­ending the injustice of in-work ­poverty; ensuring that the public services we all rely on, such as social security, are compassionately run and properly funded.

Next week organisations and individuals from across society will be campaigning as part of Challenge Poverty Week, #ChallengePoverty.

In 21st century Scotland, everybody should have the opportunity to lead a valued and fulfilling life. Please use your voice or platform, however small, to let others know what a just and compassionate society should look like.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians Scotland