We can—and must—end the scandal of Scotland's hungry children

An international report from the United Nations found that 1 in 5 children in the United Kingdom are at risk of hunger. In a commentary for the Sunday Express Rev Dr Richard Frazer says no child in Scotland should go hungry.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer
Rev Dr Richard Frazer

For six weeks this summer an Ayrshire church will deliver lunch to 250 children who might otherwise go hungry. During the school term, almost all of these children are entitled to a free school meal. During the summer holidays, their families— already stretched to the limit—somehow have to find the money for those extra meals.

Inevitably some parents simply can’t provide their children with the nutrition they need.

We know that hunger is looming danger for far too many Scottish children. Just last month, an international report from the United Nations found that 1 in 5 children in the United Kingdom are at risk of hunger compared to an average of 1 in 8 in other wealthy countries.

The report placed the UK 34th out of 41 high-income countries on its food insecurity index. We rank lower than Chile, Latvia and the Korean Republic never mind our closest neighbours.

These are not simply statistics; they represent children with names, faces and all too often empty stomachs. The message they are getting is that we, and our government, do not value them enough to meet their most basic needs.

A hungry child feels nobody cares about them or their family. Even when deeply loved at home, the message they get is that their family is forgotten in an uncaring world. What’s more we know that children who grow up with this kind of insecurity are far more likely to struggle throughout their lives.

This summer Ayr St Columba’s Church of Scotland is able to feed 250 children thanks to its partnership with South Ayrshire Council, the generosity of several businesses and its dedicated volunteers.

But the Lochside lunch project is just one of many ways churches are working year round to support children and young people in some of Scotland’s poorest communities.

From food banks and community meals to lunch programmes and breakfast clubs, churches and people of goodwill have stepped up to plug the growing holes in our welfare safety net.

"They are doing a spectacular job trying to alleviate this crisis but they will never be able to reach every single child in need. We must recognise that the fundamental problem is about the lack of money that families have to feed themselves.

It is a scandal that we, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, cannot ensure that every one of our children has enough to eat.

This has nothing to do with lack of money or lack of food. The root of the problem is our refusal to share the wealth we have more equitably. Instead of tackling inequality, we are pursuing policies that intensify it. The result is vulnerable children paying the price for an increasingly unequal economy.

Last year Rev Martin Johnstone chaired the Independent Working Group on Food Poverty, spending many months looking at the causes and consequences of the problem. The Group brought together a wide range of people interested in tackling food poverty including funders, emergency food providers, anti-poverty campaigners, community food organisations and members of the Poverty Truth Commission, who brought their direct experience of living in food poverty.

Their report made 19 recommendations to the Scottish government, which are based on six core messages:

  • The biggest problem is having enough money to feed yourself
  • Every response must be dignified
  • Involving people experiencing food insecurity is where we will find the solution
  • Everyone has the right to good quality and nutritious food
  • Food is about community and not just consumption
  • Emergency food aid is not a long term solution to hunger

We will only achieve these aims if we tackle the core causes of food poverty. That involves increasing the amount of money that those who struggle most against poverty have to spend.

This means ensuring that people have all the money that they are entitled to, by increasing some core benefits such as Child Benefit and by creating a more dignified Social Security system.

Whilst many of the powers to do this remain at Westminster, the Scottish Government has a once in a generation opportunity to address these matters through the new powers now at its disposal.

We also want to encourage a different model for providing food – one in which food is shared rather than simply given. It is our experience that sharing food helps to create community and therefore tackles deeper and broader issues in our communities as well as hunger.

We want to see investment in a movement across government and wider society which encourages people to come together to grow, cook and eat alongside campaigning for justice.

At the heart of all our recommendations lies the core principle of dignity. People who do not have enough to eat must be treated justly and fairly. We need their wisdom and expertise to tackle food poverty together.