Rev Martin Johnstone

Rev Martin Johnstone

A senior Church of Scotland official has been appointed to chair an influential group which will identify issues that push people into food poverty and come up with ideas to tackle the problem.

The Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, secretary of the Church and Society Council, was given the role by the Scottish Government and he and his team will make a series of recommendations to SNP ministers by February next year.

The working group, which comprises of representatives from the Poverty Truth Commission, Fareshare, Nourish, Oxfam, Poverty Alliance, Trussell Trust, Big Lottery, STV Appeal, The Robertson Trust, The Hunter Foundation, Bridging the Gap, local government and the Food Commission, met for the first time in Edinburgh today.

The inaugural meeting coincides with the Poverty Alliance’s annual Challenge Poverty Week which runs until Friday and aims to challenge the stereotypes around poverty and increase public support to combat it.

The latest statistics from charity Trussell Trust, highlighted by the Scottish Government, show that a total of 117,689 people picked up a three-day supply of groceries from foodbanks in 2014-15.

Of those, 36,114 were children. This is more than eight times the number helped just two years ago.

Dr Johnstone said: “I am delighted to be chairing this Independent Working Group on Food Poverty, whilst appalled that in a country as wealthy as Scotland the number of people going hungry is increasing by thousands each year.

“Our starting point will be that we need to reverse that trend.

“The group will bring together people with a wide variety of experiences of tackling food poverty including, critically, those with direct experience of what it means not to have enough for you and your family.

“I hope that together we can highlight what is working, what needs to change and what the Scottish Government and others can do to bring about a hunger free Scotland.”

Dr Johnstone said people involved in the meeting acknowledged there was an “unacceptable” scale of food poverty in Scotland and an “absolute commitment” to try and tackle it.

“Some of our work will be very practical and have a relatively immediate impact, building on many examples of superb work that is already happening,” he added.

“Other elements will take time as we face up to the causes underlying the problems, including changes to the benefits system, low paid work, job sanctions and lack of access to affordable high quality food.

“The group are clear that at the heart of any meaningful work we will undertake, we need to have the experiences and wisdom of people who are themselves struggling against food poverty.”

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said it was “heart breaking” that anyone should be left hungry and unable to afford to feed their families in a country as prosperous as Scotland.

“UK Government welfare cuts and benefit sanctions have continually pushed more and more people into food poverty and increased the demand and number of food banks in Scotland,” he added.

“By bringing together a range of experts who support people in food poverty we hope the group will come up with a food strategy that will reduce the need for foodbanks over time.

“I look forward to hearing its recommendations on how we can ease the pressure on food banks, tackle food poverty and create a fairer Scotland.”