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Inside Holyrood: MSP Emma Roddick argues it is time to end the stigma around food banks, saying she will work to help increase the 'take-up of benefits by those who are eligible – without shame'

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Emma Roddick.
MSP Emma Roddick.

Recently, I’ve had the joy of meeting so many kind and motivated people across the Highlands who are working hard to help others. I’d need to write a novel to cover them all rather than a column, but I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

I ended October with a test run in Wheels in Nairnshire’s new fully electric, wheelchair-accessible van. Having worked in the NHS, I know how valuable their service is in getting people to medical appointments, but their efforts in increasing access to leisure activities cannot be overestimated, either.

I also submitted a motion to Parliament celebrating Green Hive Nairn, who exemplify the community spirit of the town by taking part in beach cleaning, litter picks, and repurposing waste; supporting the area to look its best while also doing their bit to tackle climate change.

One fairly rainy Tuesday, I visited six organisations across Inverness who work with food or tackling food poverty: Gateway, Café 1668, Crown Community Cupboard and SHIMCA, Inverness Foodstuff, GoodNESS, and Incredible Edible Inverness. From food parcels to community orchards, there’s a lot going on in the city to drive down stigma and make sure nobody is far from food they can access without judgement.

I was grateful to then have the chance to highlight the work of these organisations in the Chamber this month, pointing out that this is reducing the stigma surrounding needing help to feed yourself and your family.

I’ve used food parcels twice in my life. I was surprised by the ease of the process of requesting and then receiving a box of essentials, and by how different the contents were to the image I had in my head of cold beans and pasta every night. The second time I needed to rely on parcels, my culinary horizons were expanded by the inclusion of tinned crab meat. Since then, it’s been a staple in my cupboard.

Early in the pandemic, and with the help of the local branch of Cycling UK who loaned me a wonderful purple trike called Purple Haze, I was privileged to support the efforts of Inverness Foodstuff, the Libertie Project and others to deliver a range of cooked meals and activities for kids through my Merkinch and South Kessock Community Support Group.

Dozens of locals joined me in making deliveries and collecting weekly shops for their neighbours. I believe that this is one of the positive things the pandemic brought us: people are more aware of how easy it is to find yourself stuck and in need of just a little bit of kindness.

I like to imagine that Scotland in the future will have no need for food banks because our social security system will be leaps ahead of the one currently run by the Tories’ DWP. But, for now, I take seriously my role as a member of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee in increasing take-up of benefits by those who are eligible – without shame.

Related story – MP Drew Hendry joins Citizens Advice and Highland Foodbank in stark warning on how a cut to Universal Credit will plunge families into debt and poverty

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