Bid to enshrine a right to food Scottish in law and end food bank dependence

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Originally published here in The National.

SCOTLAND should be aiming to get rid of food banks by enshrining a right to food in law and ending food poverty, say campaigners.

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 food banks to “disappear from Scotland like snow off a dyke”, it suggests.

UK proposals to expand the food bank 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, 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 said.

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 food banks – and the need for food banks – 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 food banks. 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.

“Food banks 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 is 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 Warwick University, also criticised the idea of extending food banks. “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 food banks, the church is clear that the right to food must be one of justice and not simply charity,” she said.

Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, agreed that food banks 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.

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