I have always had a great relationship with the Hamilton Foodbank. I donate regularly, volunteer as much as possible and have taken part in numerous initiatives and events to support their excellent work.
Their team of volunteers are committed, determined and selfless. They give up huge amounts of time and money to support the most vulnerable in our society.
That said, I – like every one of their volunteers – strive for a day when the Foodbank is no longer required.
The United Kingdom is the one of the richest countries in the world, yet thousands of my constituents rely on the kindness of the public to feed themselves.
Last year the Hamilton District Foodbank issued 5332 three day emergency food supplies, with 1873 children receiving support.
It has been said in the past that Foodbanks are part of the big society, but that could not be further from the truth. People’s reliance on the generosity of their neighbours to survive is a sign that the Government is failing.
Recently research for the Trades Union Congress has estimated that the Tories’ benefit cuts will leave over 3 million children with working parents below the official breadline.
Revelations on this scale expose how profoundly flawed the UK Government’s welfare policies are.
The Tories decision to dismantle the welfare state is driving millions of children into poverty, and while working parents are being forced to turn to emergency aid and food banks just to feed their children, they continue to put their heads in the sand and deny the problem.
One of the most obvious examples of the failing welfare state is the accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is the Tories flagship welfare reform – removing 6 benefits and replacing them with one.
The idea was to simplify how the system works, which on paper would be welcome. On practice it has proven to be an unmitigated disaster.
South Lanarkshire is the largest area in Scotland to move to full roll service and the local authority have reported a huge spike rent arrears amongst many other problems.
Stats recently revealed that over 70% of Council tenants on Universal Credit are in rent arrears compared with just over 20% of tenants not on Universal Credit.
The insecurity of the benefit has led the local authority budgeting over £5 million to protect against lost income.
That money should be spent on building more council homes, supporting people in their tenancies and improving the Council’s existing housing stock. Instead it will be spent picking up the pieces left behind by the UK Government’s bad policy.
However, with the Scottish Government’s limited powers over welfare in Scotland, we are building a social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart, and we are spending more than £100m a year mitigating some of the cruel welfare cuts.
We have introduced some changes that will make the system work better, but as long as the UK Government persist with such damaging policies, we will be tackling poverty with one hand tied behind our backs.