Some of our Working Group members have first-hand experience of not having enough money to buy food for themselves and their family. Others work on a daily basis alongside people in that situation. Dignity has been a consistent theme in our discussion. Our recurring question has been: 'How can society's response to food insecurity, and especially hunger, preserve people's dignity?'
A truly dignified system would be one where everyone is food secure, with access to adequate, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, without the need of emergency food aid. It is one where the right to food is understood as a matter of justice rather than charity.
However, the reality in Scotland is some way from that for thousands of households. So many people have to access food not through going to the shops but through some form of community or charitable provision. Or they have to apply for a Crisis Grant to get them through a particularly difficult period.
When people are in this difficult situation, the services provided have to do everything possible to maximise dignity. This could be about the sorts of questions people are asked, the way staff and others talk to people and about them, the sorts of places where the service is provided, or the quality of the food.
We welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to making dignity a core principle of social security administration, and to spelling this out in the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act. This principle should underpin all community food activities, including the provision of food aid. We recognise the efforts of volunteers and staff make to ensure this.
We have identified four principles which should guide a dignified response to food insecurity:
1. Involve in decision making people with direct experience. People who have faced food insecurity should be involved in the shaping and delivering of food security, from advising strategic working groups to everyday running of local food centres and including how our social security systems can be more effectively developed and delivered. To reduce and eradicate poverty effectively, we must ensure people with direct experience of it are seated at the decision making table. Only then can we properly understand the causes of poverty, the choices people make and develop effective solutions and strategies.
2. Recognise the social value of food. Projects which aim to build community around food often help to create the feeling of a place where people choose to go, rather than have to. A dignified system is one which recognises the social and transformative value of food in the community.
3. Provide opportunities to contribute. Part of the stigma people face is the feeling of being a 'scrounger' and a 'skiver'. A more dignified system tackling food insecurity would provide opportunities for individuals to volunteer in different roles, to share and learn new skills, to grow their own vegetables and to participate in local community life.
4. Leave people with the power to choose. Adults in our society typically exercise choice over the food they buy. This choice is sharply constrained for people on low income. Our response to food poverty should ensure that as far as possible people are able to choose what they eat: that the choice available should include fresh and healthy food; and that where people can pay something for their food they have the dignity of doing so.
There are opportunities, including through the Scottish Government's Fair Food Fund, its wider funding of initiatives tackling food insecurity and the development of its new Society Security Agency to ensure that these principles are promoted. The most dignified system is one where people do not need to access emergency food aid but have the power and resources to choose what they eat.
2. Any organisation which secures Scottish Government funding and support to work on tackling food poverty must demonstrate how its approach promotes dignity and is helping to transition away from emergency food aid as the primary response.
i. In our work we will seek to develop and deliver dignified responses to food insecurity and food poverty.
Email: Graeme MacLennan