Backed by experts, political leaders and the Church of Scotland, the new sustainable food group, Nourish Scotland, is launching a campaign for everyone to have a legal right to food. This should enable foodbanks to ”disappear from Scotland like snow off a dyke”, it suggests.
UK proposals to expand the foodbank network for handouts to the hungry are rejected as “deeply flawed” because they cannot solve the problem. The poor should not have to depend on charity and waste food that others don’t want, the group says.
Nourish Scotland was set up as a community company in 2012 to “to create a fairer and more sustainable food system in Scotland”. Part-funded by the Scottish Government, it’s headed by Pete Ritchie, an organic farmer in Lamancha, south of Edinburgh.
He pointed out that tens of thousands of Scottish households worry every week about having enough food to eat. “We think everyone in Scotland should have the right to a decent diet – enough good food for them and their family to be healthy,” he said.
“Food banks are not a solution. Even in countries like Canada where they’ve been going for 30 years, they only serve a fraction of the people who are hungry. We want an approach to hunger and food insecurity based on rights, not charity.”
Nourish Scotland is calling for a United Nations covenant on economic, social and cultural rights to be adopted under Scots law. “This won’t end hunger overnight, but it’s the foundation for a determined partnership between national and local government, working with communities, farmers and social enterprises to build a zero hunger Scotland,” Ritchie argued.
One of the first steps should be to devolve social security powers from Westminster “so we can abolish the callous sanctions policy which drives people to destitution and generates most of the demand for food banks,” he added. “We want to see foodbanks - and the need for foodbanks - disappear from Scotland like snow off a dyke.”
A report in December by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Poverty in Britain, set up by the Labour MP Frank Field, recommended the creation of a new network of foodbanks. The aim was to boost the supply of “surplus food” to the poor.
But this has been condemned by the leaders of Glasgow and Edinburgh city councils, Gordon Matheson and Andrew Burns. “Foodbanks are a crisis response to an immediate problem, not a sustainable solution to food poverty,” they said in a joint statement.
“When food banks become too well established they undermine the fundamental rights enshrined in our welfare system. If we become too reliant upon them we risk a return to charity welfare – this must not happen.”
Access to food was a basic human right, the two leaders argued. They pledged to work with others “to ensure that all citizens have access to sustainable, nutritious food as a matter of course, not as a result of charity”.
Professor Elizabeth Dowler, a leading expert on food poverty from the University of Warwick, also criticised the idea of extending foodbanks. “There is no evidence from any country that has systemised using food waste to feed hungry people that it is effective, sustainable or fair,” she said.
“We must not lose sight of justice: food waste cannot and must not be seen as the solution to food poverty.”
Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, supported a right to good food. “Whilst we celebrate the generosity which inspires people to give to and volunteer within foodbanks, the church is clear that the right to food must be one of justice and not simply charity,” she said.
The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Alex Neil, agreed that foodbanks were not a sustainable response to food poverty. “The UK government must take responsibility for the impact of their welfare reform programme and ensure that food poverty does not become an established feature of the welfare system in Scotland,” he said.
“Ensuring that people from all walks of life can have access to good, nutritious food is one of the challenges set out in the Scottish Government’s national food policy”. The first meeting of the government’s Food Commission set up to help meet that goal is due to take place this week.