By Louise Palmer
Christmas is a time for giving, celebrating, and appreciating loved ones. It is also the time of year which highlights the inequality in our society more starkly than any other. Over this festive period thousands of Scots will face the struggle of food poverty, consequently leading to increased stress, hunger, and social exclusion. Food poverty can be understood as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”. In 2019, the Scottish government found that 9% of the population (almost 500,000 people) worried that they would run out of food due to a lack of resources. However, this rose sharply to 31% for single parent households in Scotland. The statistic for single parents is only relevant for single mothers due to the data used but it reflects the real challenge of food poverty in Scotland. This problem has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as more people face financial instability.
In turn, this has led to a substantial increase in demand for emergency food provision. Crucial resources such as food banks play a key part in the response to food poverty, however they should not be considered a central part of the long term solution. Improving understanding and involving more people experiencing food poverty in the conversation, have been recognised as key parts of a sustainable longer term approach. There is currently a proposed Right to Food Bill in the Scottish Parliament, which aims to enshrine the human right to food into Scots Law. Those supporting the Bill argue that if passed, it would allow for a more coherent strategy to tackle the wider issue of food poverty. However, we are currently a long way from achieving something of this sort.
The outlook need not be entirely doom and gloom, as both organisations and individuals who work hard to combat food poverty year round will continue to do so this Christmas. Within the UK, the Scottish Government has taken a leading role in attempting to combat poverty and inequality. In particular, choosing to create new child poverty targets (within Child Poverty Scotland Act 2017) when Westminster scrapped the Child Poverty Act in 2016. Moreover, organisations such as the entirely volunteer-run Fife Gift of Christmas Appeal are determined to make this Christmas a positive experience for youngsters. Fife Gift of Christmas aims to make sure every child in Fife has a present to open on the 25th. This inspiring spirit can be found across Scotland, but it does not detract from the struggles that currently face society. As we move into the new year and collectively look to the future, we need to make a concerted effort to move forward as one.