Each September, upon the return of MSPs to Holyrood from summer recess, the Scottish Government sets out its Programme for Government (PfG). This annual political landmark lays out the policy proposals and legislative plans we can expect during the forthcoming parliamentary session. With intent “to tackle poverty and inequality head on”, Scotland’s First Minister said last Tuesday: “[This] Programme… is unashamedly anti-poverty and pro-growth.” One week on, we consider what encouragement foodbanks can draw from it.
In his first PfG statement since becoming First Minister, Humza Yousaf started by sharing a personal testimony of his grandfather’s arrival in Scotland from Pakistan and about the challenges of his raising five children as a widower following the loss of a wife. It set an emotive tone ahead of the announcement of plans. Yousaf said he intended to “…lead a government that works for the whole country,” adding that “there is more that unites us than divides us” and said he would use powers at his disposal to tackle “the scourge of poverty”.
He added: “In 2023, with the abundance of wealth we have, as a society, it is morally indefensible that people in our country, frankly our planet, go to bed hungry.” For those working in Dundee & Angus Foodbank as well as elsewhere in Scotland’s voluntary sector and left with expectations based upon his pledge as a future SNP leader and First Minister to “eradicate poverty” and, having then held an anti-poverty summit in May following his appointment, this was a statement of intent. On the pledges within the PfG, Yousaf said:
- “We will increase social security spending by almost £1 billion [in 2024-25]” and “we will help more parents buy healthy food – This investment in Social Security Scotland ripples out in the form of various devolved benefits. One of those benefits is Best Start Foods and Yousaf pledged to remove income thresholds by February 2024 associated with the benefit, extending its reach to a further 20,000 pregnant mothers and children.
- Dundee & Angus Foodbank response: We believe Social Security Scotland (SSS), five years on from its inception, still represents a marked improvement from the inflexible Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). From personal experience of co-locating with SSS’s local delivery team in Dundee, we have been able to increase the accessibility to, as well as visibility of, devolved benefits.
- “We will help more than 300,000 children with more than £1,000 a year through the Scottish Child Payment” – Since the introduction of Scottish Child Payment at £10 per week, per child under six years of age from February 2021 and its two increases to the current level of £25 per week, per child under 16 years of age, this benefit has lifted 90,000 children out of poverty. The PfG commits to £400m of ongoing investment.
- Dundee & Angus Foodbank response: We welcome ongoing commitment to Scottish Child Payment, which is another of these devolved benefits. Early signs are that this intervention has decreased foodbank use locally since its full rollout to all children under 16 years of age from November 2022. We have spoken to former clients who have not had to use the foodbank since the eligibility criteria was extended.
- “We will expand free school meals” – The provision of universal free school meals to Scotland’s primary schoolchildren was introduced by the Scottish Government in January 2015 for primaries one to three respectively and later extended to primary five. Yousaf outlined his Government’s intent to roll this out further for schoolchildren in primaries six and seven, starting with those in receipt of Scottish Child Payment (SCP).
- Dundee & Angus Foodbank response: We support the expansion of free school meals provision from primaries one through seven respectively. A full belly is crucial to creating a healthy mind able to access the full benefits of a good education. We are, however, cautious of the SCP criterion, unless this can be implemented in a manner which does not stigmatise children whose parents are claimants.
- “My government is calling for the UK Government to legislate to put an Essentials Guarantee in place to adequately cover the cost of essentials” – This challenge mirrors a call from The Trussell Trust – to whom Dundee & Angus Foodbank is affiliated – as well as Joseph Rowntree Foundation to ensure unemployment benefits, like Universal Credit, keep pace with the cost-of-living and essentials such as food and energy.
- Dundee & Angus Foodbank response: Although we acknowledge what additional social security levers are uniquely available in Scotland, like Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Welfare Fund, we also endorse this reference to the ‘Essentials Guarantee’. We believe that ensuring a basic level of material wellbeing for those, for whatever reason, not in secure and sustainable employment is vital to a whole society.
These four pledges are signs of progress 10 years on from the advent of austerity ushered in alongside the Welfare Reform Act in April 2013, which led to an explosive increase in foodbank demand and use in Dundee. In 2012/13, what was then called Dundee Foodbank provided food to just under 4,000 men, women and children. The number of people who used Dundee Foodbank the following year was over 7,000. This saw the biggest single annual increase in our history and it was not because we had implemented any bright new marketing strategy.
We at Dundee & Angus Foodbank – as we are now called – have never really caught our breath since these events over a decade ago. In fact, our numbers soared beyond 18,000 in April 2023. To put this into context, if Tannadice Stadium sold out, you still couldn’t fit in there the number of people we provided food to this last year. It is for these reasons that the Dundee & Angus Foodbank staff and trustees welcome efforts in this PfG to provide greater support to people experiencing financial hardship as we aspire to maximise its potential within our local context.
Written by Ewan Gurr – Founder and manager of Dundee Foodbank from 2005-2012 and consultant to Dundee & Angus Foodbank from 2022-present.