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Inverness Reverend wants to see an end to food bank need

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Rev James Bissett, minister of St Stephen's Church, will be taking part in the London Marathon. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Rev James Bissett, minister of St Stephen's Church, will be taking part in the London Marathon. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Rev James Bissett, locum minister at Old High St Stephen’s Church in Inverness reflects on the cost of living crisis – and what to do about it.

I want to see all food banks closed down – every single, last one of them.

Although I am very thankful for the hard work of dedicated volunteers across the country who provide a lifeline to so many low-income families and individuals, they should not exist.

But the fact that they do, with ever increasing need as the cost of living crisis bites, is a stain on our society and a sign that we are failing as a nation.

Britain, the world’s sixth wealthiest country in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), should not have to rely on charities to keep citizens fed and warm.

But food banks have become such a normal part of life, every supermarket has a collection point and some stores even have pre-packaged bags of goods you can purchase for donation.

I’m grateful to my own congregation for the support they provide to Blythswood Foodbank and Café 1668 which help those most in need.

Many people have expressed concern to me about how the cost of living is affecting them and how they are worried about the costs of keeping their homes warm this winter.

One person said they are trying to source scrap pallets for firewood with the aim of having one warm room.

I have comforted people crying because their kids are going cold, directed them to support services and collected parcels of food for distribution to those who need it most.

Even ministers have shared concerns with me about the costs of heating their manses this winter.

Churches across Scotland are having discussions about setting up warm banks and soup kitchens, while at the same time worrying about their own heating costs.

In August, the Church of Scotland joined with 56 other faith groups, charities and politicians to call on the UK government to take urgent action to bridge the cost of living gap which is plunging people further into poverty.

Analysis by Professor Donald Hirsch, a poverty expert at Loughborough University, showed that the current flat-rate payments will fall at least £1600 short of making up for recent changes to living costs and benefits faced by a couple with two children.

A Scottish Government report published last December estimates that the minimum cost of living in remote and rural areas like the Highlands is between 15 percent and 30 percent higher than urban areas.

I believe that we have a moral and biblical obligation to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and care for the sick.

Britain’s new Prime Minister must take immediate steps to support the most vulnerable in our society and prevent this crisis from getting worse.

Increasing Universal Credit in the short-term would be a good start before implementing a long-term plan to eliminate poverty completely and enable all children of God to thrive.

If the political will is there, we will be able to close the last food bank sooner than later but until then, on the last Sunday of the month, we will be collecting non-perishable food and toiletries for Café 1668 at St Stephen’s Church.

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