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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Has everyday poverty become ‘normalised’?

Last week at the Gathering, Hannah told her story of what it’s like to use a foodbank: ‘For about two weeks I had been eating toast, if there was any money for bread. Nothing more, just toast. I was referred to the foodbank and it was like one big family, there was no judgment. It wasn’t a case of ‘here’s your food parcel’ and out you go. It was “how can we help you, do you want to talk?” At the foodbank I actually found myself laughing for the first time in God knows how long’. ‘I asked if I could volunteer. Now I do, and on my badge I have it written that I’ve used the foodbank too, which helps put people at ease because they know I’ve been there as well.”
Every single person who walks through the doors of a foodbank will be greeted by a volunteer who will listen to them in a non-judgemental way
The day before, Shami Chakribati, the outgoing director of human rights organisation Liberty, told the audience that she lives opposite a foodbank in London. I asked what she thought about the human right to food, considering that Trussell Trust foodbanks alone gave over 1m three day emergency food supplies to people last year. Shami replied, saying that seeing the foodbank makes her think that every day poverty has become ‘normalised’. Knowing that there are parents living in a house near yours who have been skipping meals so their kids can eat dinner is something that should give us all pause for thought. Having a foodbank opposite your house can only be an even starker reminder that life is becoming increasingly tough for some of us in the UK. This should never become normal. During her speech on what human rights might look like in a fairer Scotland Shami emphasised that ‘every one of us is precious just by virtue of being alive.’ This reminded me of a phrase the Chairman of The Trussell Trust, Chris, often uses to describe what we do: ‘restoring dignity, reviving hope’. We believe that no-one should have to go hungry in the UK, and that foodbanks are here to do so much more than provide food. Every single person who walks through the doors of a foodbank will be greeted by a volunteer who will listen to them in a non-judgemental way, speak to them with compassion and understanding, and offer practical help in the form of food and further support. Tara, who now runs Glasgow North East foodbank says: ‘You never know the minute your life can completely change. I was in an abusive relationship – emotional and psychological abuse. It was from there that my life spiraled downwards. I faced sleeping in a car with my two sons. We had no money while I signed on for benefits and waited for them to come through.’ ‘I had truly lost all sense of myself, my hopes and my dreams. When I finally looked for help from the Trust I just wanted to get in the door and out again, but they kept me talking and were so helpful. I ended up volunteering. ‘Now I am employed by the foodbank … I feel like a new person. I'm good at this and my sons can see how positive it is for mum to be working.’ Dave used the foodbank when he was facing depression and homelessness, he said: ‘The foodbank gave me such confidence and hope – I felt I was actually worth something’. Every individual in the foodbank has the right to be treated as precious and important, no matter the circumstances that led them to the door. A foodbank is often the very place where people’s rights are respected: the right to be heard, the right to be treated with dignity, the right to a share a meal with your family that night. The Trussell Trust also held an event at the conference where the real experts on hunger spoke: not staff from the charity itself, but the very people who had come through the doors seeking help, just as Hannah had done. Shauna, Dave, Tara and Alec didn’t talk a lot about the food they were given, but instead about the support and respect they were shown, just by virtue of being a precious human being. Their stories, of making the journey from recipient of food aid to the volunteer distributing it, from being homeless to running your own business, from despair to hope, are truly what human rights looks like in a foodbank and give a good model for making our society fairer for all.
Last modified on 23 January 2020