“Policy makers must ‘stand in the other persons’ shoes”
Dave Simmers (CEO of Community Food Initiatives North East and Chairperson of the North East Scotland Credit Union).
Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE) improves health and well-being, increases employability, addresses environmental concerns and creates employment for and with disadvantaged and vulnerable persons and communities.
CFINE has effectively done this for the past 17 years and, to be clear, in a context of relative affluence (Aberdeen, the ‘oil capital’ of Europe), poverty is rife and reinforced by being surrounded by affluence, and intensified through higher prices and housing costs. Additionally, in the north east, there is a large rural population whose circumstance is aggravated by difficulty accessing services including transport and isolation.
Emergency food support is a development over the past two years, with CFINE now operating a food bank and being the lead partner in the 37 organisation-strong Food Banks Partnership Aberdeen (FBPA).
FBPA is committed to providing services which support people to positions where they have greater control over their lives. Food banks, in themselves, are not constructive, they create dependency, erode dignity and maintain the status quo (having said this, if people are hungry, they need food!).
FBPA therefore is committed to providing directly or signposting/ referring beneficiaries to other services around financial education and capability, employability and health and well-being.
It is shocking in the fifth richest country in the world that there are large numbers of people dependent on food banks – many individuals and families are daily making the choice to ‘eat or heat’. The FBPA will provide at least 25,000 emergency food packages (and other products like nappies, toiletries and sanitary ware) throughout 2015. Many of the families and individuals who receive these are affected by welfare reform with, amongst CFINE’s 200 beneficiaries per week, a high percentage adversely affected by welfare reform – delays in benefits payments, sanctions, housing benefit reductions and the ‘welfare cap’.
Each of these individuals and families represent a tale of human tragedy. So how can these desperate circumstances be alleviated (within the socio-economic-political system), and help create a Fairer Scotland?
Employment, with decent wages, must be for those who can – the key goal is decent income levels for those who can’t, which means policy makers must ‘stand in the other persons’ shoes, to appreciate the experiences and circumstances from which people are needing ‘person-centred’ support. Investment in front line voluntary and public sector services working in partnership (beyond the rhetoric), adopting a ‘person-centred’ approach around the priority requirements of financial education and capability, employability and health and well-being for and with disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and families. And ensuring evidence of beneficiaries’ experience is communicated to policy-makers.
More than ever, we must strive for effective partnership working between the public, voluntary and private sectors (corporate support for our work in Aberdeen has been fantastic), based on the recognition that no one organisation or sector can do it all, mutual respect and with a focus on support for and with disadvantaged individuals, families and communities.