Monday, 27 October 2014

Poverty in a Good Food Nation

The Scottish Government has stated its aspiration for Scotland to become a Good Food Nation. A plan based on improving diets and access to nutritious food is clearly commendable and necessary. The litmus test for this project, however, should be the diet and health outcomes of those on the lowest incomes, living in marginalised communities. And this will likely only be achieved when people from these communities have a direct say in the shaping and delivery of the strategy.

The presence of foodbanks in a country as wealthy as Scotland is a source of national shame and must not be allowed to become the norm. At the Poverty Truth Commission, we have heard from a number of people who have been forced to use Foodbanks. They have talked powerfully of the indignity of someone else picking out the food that you get to eat; of needing to admit that you do not have a tin opener or your power supply has been cut off; of begging for a voucher; and of needing to walk for miles to get food for your family.

However, whilst welfare reforms and other recent phenomena have largely driven the need for foodbanks, there are long-standing deeper issues around food poverty which must also be tackled. What is first required for any change, of course, is expert knowledge from those with experience

Due to the structural nature of poverty in Scotland, people on low incomes have been deprived of access to cheap and fresh healthy food for years. Hearing from individuals who have survived on low incomes, the Commission has learnt of the crippling effect the poverty premium has on their diet. These extra costs which people on low incomes have to pay, as detailed in the Commission's latest report, often result in people severely restricted on what they can buy.

Unlike what has been stated in recent times by a famous celebrity chef amongst others, ready meals and other unhealthy lifestyle choices are not the result of wilful ignorance on the part of people in poverty. They are the result of people simply having no choice.

Unless we start to listen to people living in food poverty to understand this lack of choice, we will not be close to being a Good Food Nation.

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