Seasonal food for thought …

Posted on 20/12/2013 by


Politicians praise voluntary sector efforts to tackle food poverty in struggling communities

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth John Swinney has praised the essential work of the voluntary sector at Christmas during a tour of Transform Community Development’s new-look Dundee premises.

Through its work with national charity FareShare the Dundee project aims to reduce food poverty and offers training and volunteering opportunities to service users and local people in the community.

During the visit Mr Swinney saw first-hand the efforts of the third sector organisation which provides balanced meals and shelter to homeless and vulnerable people in the city, before going on to tour the Jessie Devlin Hostel, one of Transform’s residential and sheltered housing accommodation for vulnerable people.

He said: “Christmas should be a time for fun and festivities but it can be tough for people across the country who are living in poverty.

“The Scottish Government is committed to tackling and preventing homelessness. Official statistics published last month revealed fewer people are becoming homeless in Scotland, with a 14 per cent decrease of households living in temporary accommodation at the end of June compared with 2013.

“Transform’s work on Zero Waste Scotland’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign complements what they are doing with FareShare as it’s all about making the most of the food we have.

“Social enterprises, voluntary organisations and community organisations play an important part in Scottish society. They deliver superb services and help to connect with the most vulnerable people in our communities, which is especially important during the festive period which can be a particularly difficult time of year.

“It was an honour to meet the people who run and use Transform’s FareShare scheme and sheltered accommodation. Such excellent projects just show how charities can work in partnership with retailers like Asda and cut down on food waste and feed those in need at the same time.”

The charity collects donations of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products from suppliers and retailers like Brakes, Nestle and Asda then hands them out to disadvantaged groups in the area.

The food, which would otherwise end up in landfill because of packaging errors, over production or short shelf lives, is redistributed to those in need in Dundee, Perth, Kinross and Angus.

Transform Community Development Trust’s CEO Simon Laidlaw said: “We have been involved with FareShare since it began and are extremely proud of what it achieves.

“In particular in times of austerity and public sector cuts it is good to be able to assist other voluntary organisations, taking some pressure off and enabling them to enhance the services they provide for vulnerable people.

“With food poverty on the increase it makes sense that we should be working with the industry to ensure that no good food goes to waste and that those in need get the benefit.”

Asda’s Scottish Corporate Affairs Manager Polly Jones, said: “With over 60 Asda stores in Scotland, even a couple of extra cases of food here and there can quickly add up to hundreds of tonnes of surplus stock. By working with FareShare we can ensure this good quality food doesn’t go to waste.

“Asda’s contribution provides 3.6 million meals for the good causes FareShare supports, helping to alleviate food poverty and saving the charities money to invest in essential services. The partnership is a simple and practical way for Asda to turn an environmental problem into a real benefit for the communities we serve.”

Edinburgh North and Leith MP has also highlighted the food poverty plight faced by many Scots families over Christmas.

Following a debate in Westminster called by the Labour Opposition on food banks, Mark Lazarowicz MP has highlighted that many ordinary Scots face crisis this Christmas due to the shocking increase in food poverty.

He pointed to the dramatic growth not just in food banks but all forms of help such as food vans and soup kitchens in Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland over the last two years as a response to real need amongst ordinary families struggling to put food on the table.

Speaking after the packed debate, Mark said: “In just two years the number of food banks in Scotland operated by the Trussell Trust, the main food bank charity, has dramatically increased from just one to forty-three today, with two more being planned in Edinburgh alone.

“But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with many other people either going without or getting into debt to get through the week.”

“The Government’s stock response is to point to all it is doing to support ordinary families but if so why has the scale of need grown so rapidly? According to Citizens Advice Scotland, half of those who use food banks are actually in work but their wages can’t keep pace with the cost of living – three-quarters of the rest turn to them because of delays in their benefits or changes to the benefit system introduced by the Government.

“I pay tribute to the civic responsibility and compassion of the volunteers and staff who run food banks and food vans but it’s a tragedy they are needed and needed they definitely are – not least because of Government policy.”

The North & Leith MP called for a thorough examination by the Government of why so many people need help followed by a major policy rethink if Citizens Advice Scotland and the Trussell Trust are proved right that Government policies are a key contributing factor.

At this time last year, the Prime Minister claimed that the growth in food banks was an expression of the big society. More recently, his Education Secretary has suggested that more people are turning to food banks because they are unable to manage their finances properly.

That is not borne out by either the findings of the Trussell Trust or a study produced by Citizens Advice Scotland tracking those they referred to food banks. Both pointed to the difficulty of in-work households in meeting basic bills because of low wages and the rising cost of living coupled with benefit delays and changes to the benefit system introduced by the Government as the main explanations.