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6th May 2022

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the cost-of-living crisis in the 5th richest country in the world according to GDP.

In my previous columns I have tackled specific aspects of the state of this country since 2010 and the deliberate and callous attitude by the Tories at Westminster to undermine and reduce the welfare state, first created by Labour after World War II. Since the pandemic began and lockdowns were first initiated in March 2020, we at You Can Cook were stopped right in our tracks by the inability to deliver any of our services to communities locally and across Scotland. A huge loss to many that relied on our services and the nutritious and delicious food that many accessed and enjoyed while learning to cook and eat healthy meals daily for themselves and their families.

We have seen a consistent rise in people and children going hungry because of benefit cuts and sanctions imposed via the DWP on parents; that due to unemployment, disability and lack of opportunities had their only source of income abruptly cut. Add the rise in energy costs since April and we are now in a perfect storm. In many cases we stepped in to provide extra food through our cookery classes so that participants could take home with them meals to share with their families. As an organisation we have been at the forefront of this crisis helping support struggling children and their parents who could not afford to buy food. I will never forget seeing children feeling tired and coming to school hungry because their parents could not feed them breakfast in the morning or even worse dinner the night before!

Since Brexit this problem only got worse due to rising costs of basic foods and putting a huge financial strain on many working-class families and those that have to rely on benefits for no fault of their own. The pandemic, job loses, reduction of benefits and now the unfolding energy crisis has already pushed millions into debt, poverty, homelessness and mental health problems. We have just started to deliver our cookery sessions this year and have already seen a huge increase in the prices of essential commodities like milk, bread, fresh vegetable and fruits, meats, and many other staple foods. The ability to provide extra support has been jeopardised due to high price increases. Children unfortunately are facing the brunt of this situation as they are left feeling vulnerable, hungry and desperate for some relief. The Scottish government is doing it best to mitigate the shambolic rolling out of Universal Credit which is the root of the problem and forcing even more citizens on to foodbanks like never before.

As an organisation we have been in a unique position to help and support the most vulnerable in our community and we have spoken truth to power. Our organisation is not funded by local or national governments. This gives us leverage to raise difficult issues with politicians and bureaucrats albeit at a financial cost to ourselves. Trying to raise awareness about nutritious foods and how to access fresh produce is in jeopardy as the massive price increases in the last few years is making it impossible to convince and motivate people to swap their ready meals for some fresh home cooked meal. Foodbanks are here to stay and have become part of the welfare state.

A sad state of affairs in modern Britain.

*Originally written & published in the Peeblesshire News.

Categories
Column

1st April 2022

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the good food nation bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament last year in this final part of his two-part column.

In my previous column I wrote about what the “Good Food Nation Bill” is and when and why it was first introduced and its main objectives. This column will now focus on what the Good Food Nation Bill actually does in practice and the importance of linking it with the Right to Food Scotland Bill. Government bureaucracy is the same no matter where you are on this planet, some countries may be more efficient than others but overall, the workings and processes are very similar and tightly controlled. This is the current Scottish governments flagship policy and has come a long way since 2014 when the idea was first introduced to the public. To give credit to the SNP, it’s a very forward and radical way of looking at food in Scotland and for the very first-time food will become an indicator of people’s health and well-being and hopefully a human right!

So, will the bill do what it intends to achieve in the coming years for the people of Scotland? The answer is not very clear as yet, since we are at the very beginning of a very long process. The initial bill tabled is vague and very ambiguous and not very clear as to who will be finally responsible for providing or not providing good nutritious food to the citizens of Scotland. At first glance the bill seems to address all the main factors in determining who, when and how the policy should be implemented, but as they say in any flagship policy, the devil is in the detail. Having read the bill we as an organisation are not fully convinced that this policy will do what its intended to deliver to its targeted audience especially children, low-income families, people on benefits and vulnerable groups. The reason being that all benefits are not in Holyrood’s control eg. Universal Credit. In determining the content of the national good food nation plan, the Scottish Ministers must have regard, among other things, to the scope for food-related issues to affect outcomes in relation to — (a) social and economic wellbeing, (b) the environment, (c) health, and (d) economic development. These factors alone make it impossible from the onset to expect any constructive, positive, long-term outcomes for the very section of society that it aims to benefit and address food related health problems and inequalities. Most aspects of the bill as mentioned before are vague and will not go even close to eradicating the very problem this bill is meant to address.

Local authorities and health boards are required by law to draw up “Good Food Nation Plans” along with a specified public authority! Not sure what and who this refers too. According to this bill “food-related issue” means; (a) a food matter, or

(b) any other matter connected with (i) the availability of food, (ii) the production, processing or distribution of food, (iii) the preparation or service of food for consumers. The onus will be once again on big business and corporations to heavily influence this bill in their favour as profits will start to tumble if more food is grown locally and by small farmers and community groups.

I and many other across the political divide have argued that Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant’s The Right to Food (Scotland) Bill should be included as part of the Good Food Nation Bill to ensure no one goes hungry in Scotland. If the bill became law, the Scottish government would have responsibility for ensuring that food is available, accessible, and adequate for everyone. This ultimately will help support citizens of Scotland in achieving good, cheap and affordable nutritious food for all.  In a nutshell, a slow but steady start to what could well become a shining example for the rest of the world to see an effective and robust food policy delivering at grassroots level all across Scotland.

*Originally written & published in the Peeblesshire News.