Prior to COVID-19, and despite Scotland being one of the richest countries in the world, the blight of poverty and food insecurity still affected too many of our communities.
The Independent Care Review reported how poverty and care experience are closely interlinked. Many children and families shared with the Care Review their experiences of not having enough food to eat, money to wash clothes or buy school uniforms. They also shared their how this could make them feel.
The impact of COVID-19
For children and families in need of care and protection, pre-existing vulnerabilities have been amplified and exacerbated during lockdown and the pandemic. Many families have experienced a reduction, or eradication, of income, which further heightens the risk of children being hungry and having no access to food. This risk only increases during holiday periods when children are at home.
The closure of community spaces has removed a vital lifeline of support for food, health or community networks. Many are at home and worried about leaving the house, yet are unable to afford food deliveries, or to be recognised as priority groups to access food deliveries. Families have told us that they feel the use of supermarket vouchers can be stigmatising and impractical. They can feel embarrassed using them, there can be technical issues which prevent them working and it may actually cost the family money, or be impractical, to travel to the supermarket which the voucher has been provided for. Additionally, providing vouchers that can only be redeemed in retailers who do not offer home delivery, places additional barriers on vulnerable families.
A report from Buttle UK confirmed food poverty and a lack of digital access as the two key factors in affecting children’s education. We have also recently heard of students in Higher Education and Further Education surviving on emergency food parcels and the impact this has had on their learning.
Early on Who Cares? Scotland produced a report with examples of the experiences being shared from their Covid-19 support helpline. Food poverty was affecting care experienced people, with many reporting that having little to no food left to feed themselves, their children and their families. Care experienced young people I have been speaking to recently shared similar experiences, describing what feels like a callous and uncaring benefits system. Decisions between paying bills or choosing healthy food have been difficult, with mounting debts a continual stress.
If we want to ‘build back better’ fort a post-COVID lockdown world, we need to examine the root of these existing inequalities. Universally, poverty and financial precariousness continue to have a significant and detrimental impact on the lives and wellbeing of too many care experienced people. We all need stable environments and supportive relationships to grow, yet we know too often these do not exist for care experienced people.
In our response to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Energy and Fair Work Committee’s Inquiry into the economic impact of COVID-19, we called for a focus on a number of areas to alleviate poverty, including:
There are opportunities to demonstrate that more can be done to reduce food insecurity.
Change is coming
The community-led response to COVID-19 has been awe-inspiring. Thousands of people all across Scotland have given up their time to help vulnerable families with essential food, mobile phone vouchers, care packages and much, much more. Families should not have to depend on the kindness of charity volunteers, but I have no doubt this kindness has saved many lives during the pandemic.
The new devolved powers in Scotland around social security provide an opportunity to create a system based on dignity, fairness and respect. To do this requires engaging with people with experience of receiving benefits, and it is heartening to see this work starting to take place.
Currently, we are rightly commending the introduction of a Bill that seeks to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots Law. There is much work to be done to ensure the full range of rights are realised for all children; however, the ambitious, progressive approach taken in the Bill to incorporate the UNCRC within the powers of the Scottish Parliament should be celebrated. Everyone should have the right to a safe home, food and, in this age, to digital access. These are fundamental rights: this is not too much to ask.
A few hours down the M6 from our base in Glasgow, a young man has held the UK Government to account over their provision of free school meals. With a clear message of empathy and personal experience, footballer Marcus Rashford has held a mirror up to the UK Government’s approach to supporting our most vulnerable during the pandemic. With his appeal rejected by the Government, he has vowed to keep fighting. We may not have his 3.4million followers on Twitter or reporters ready to hear what we always have to say, but we can all learn from the way he has used – and continues to use - his voice to affect this change.
As we go into the winter, with COVID-19 and the response to it likely to affect families even more during the months ahead, food insecurity will remain a pressing concern. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” It’s a quote I always hold on to. Together we have the power to make change – change that is so desperately needed.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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