Monday 3 October 2022
There is no getting away from the fact that times are hard and getting harder for hundreds of thousands of people across the country. A rising flood in the cost of living is pulling more and more people towards poverty and those already in poverty are being sucked in deeper.
This week (3rd October – 9th October 2022) we are joining with other charities and organisations across Scotland for #ChallengePovertyWeek. The deep-set hope of this week is to #turnthetide on the injustice of poverty in Scotland. We believe that our economy can be re-designed so that it works for all of us.
Over the Summer, Central Church, who hold their Soul Food meal on a Sunday lunchtime, spent some time thinking about the realities of poverty. The hidden challenges that might not easily come to mind when you haven’t experienced the challenges of an insufficient income, relentlessly. Inspired by some of the questions that they asked each other to consider, we are inviting you to do the same. All of the situations below, are things talked about regularly around Soul Food tables.
What would your week look like if you had to walk everywhere?
Poverty means making tough choices about what you do with your money. With the rising cost of fuel, now more than ever, people are struggling to be able to use cars or public transport. We recently heard from a CAP client that they were sleeping in their car between shifts as they couldn’t afford the petrol to get to and from work.
Each week at Soul Food we hear stories of how people walk miles – every day – just to get a meal. Bus fare is not something that is affordable. For some, this walk can be up to 10 miles, just for dinner, rain or shine.
What would your week look like if you had to walk everywhere? What impact would it have on your time and the things that you were able to do?
Could you live on £83.72 a week?
The benefits system is complex and can be hard to navigate. Many people in poverty are also trying to pay off debt whilst also living on a limited budget. The huge increase in food and household bills means many households face impossible choices.
Emma Jackson, (CAP Scotland Director), recently spoke to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee at the Scottish Parliament about this:
“...the reality we’re facing for households on the lowest incomes is what we would describe as ‘deficit budgets’, once we have worked with individuals to clear their debts, we would provide them with what we would describe as a ‘debt-free budget’ to help people to manage their income and stay debt free. An example of this is a single adult household in Ayrshire that we are working with and very nearly at the point of insolvency through a MAP (Minimal Asset Process). Their sole income is through social security. They have anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and as we’re building a budget for this individual as they go debt free, they have £8.55 per week for food and household items. That’s actually £1.22 a day.”
Universal Credit is the social security payment that people receive. It is paid monthly and has to cover all food, clothes, bills, social activities and all other living costs.
A single adult household receives £334.91 per month. This works out at £83.72 a week. £11.96 a day.
We are grateful for partnerships that we have across Edinburgh with organisations that can help folk with their benefits and their housing issues. Edinburgh City Mission is one such partnership. Not only do they host a Soul Food meal on a Monday evening, but they also have Foodbanks and a Clothesbank that we can refer people to, easily. None of us think that it is right that foodbanks have become in a 'norm' in terms of helping people ensure that they have enough food to eat. Ultimately the answer to this has to be realistic financial support and living wages. This will be a theme that it is highlighted throughout tis #ChalengePovertyWeek. ‘Right There’ is another organisation whom we work alongside. Members of their are due to volunteer regularly at two Soul Foods meal in order to be on hand if anyone needs help and advice with their benefits and housing issues. We can also refer anyone in need of support to them, directly.
How would living on £83.72 impact your life? What hard choices would you have to make?
What would you eat if you weren’t using your oven or hob?
Just last week, we heard from a Soul Food volunteer, who mentioned that that they had not eaten a hot meal for a week. Due to ill-health, they had been unable to come along to the meals they usually would and due to being frightened of the costs that turning on their oven might incur, they had not cooked a hot meal for themselves.
In 2019, the number of households in fuel poverty in Scotland was 24.6% or 613,000 households. (Energy Action Scotland). This is the most recent data but we can expect that this percentage will have increased dramatically in 2022.
Many of those who come along to Soul Food meals don’t have a permanent address. They are living in B&B’s and hostels without access to a kitchen. Their only cooking utensil may be a kettle in their room or, a microwave or toaster, that has to be shared with everyone in the hostel. Others struggle to afford fresh ingredients to make some of the meals that we can offer at Soul Food and many don’t have the pans and simple equipment needed to make a hot meal. We know – because we are regularly told – the churches that provide Soul Food meals week in week out – are offering an absolute lifeline. (Currently we do not have a meal on a Friday evening and this is proving to be really challenging as food in the city is not easily available on a Friday. If you belong to a church that could host a Friday evening Soul Food we would love to speak with you.)
If you didn’t have a ‘kitchen’, how would this affect your meals? Would you be able to eat healthily? Would there be certain types of food that you would have to do without?
Could you wear one outfit – always?
The right to adequate clothing is more than a physical necessity. What we wear also plays a role in maintaining our wellbeing and self-esteem. When you are living on. A limited income and have to choose between food and clothing, clothes become a lower priority.
Central Church and Edinburgh City Mission run a Clothesbank every Monday morning. They have stories of families coming to visit the clothes bank who literally just have the clothes that they are standing in.
The Clothesbank is an important resource, as individuals and families are able to come away with a complete wardrobe of clothes. But could you imagine only owning the clothes that you are wearing right at this moment? The chances are too, that if they are all that you own, washing them and caring for them is not going to be straightforward either.
How would it feel to wear the same clothes everyday no matter what the occasion? Would there be situations where you felt awkward?
What would your life feel like without any social plans?
People living in poverty often experience stress, depression and anxiety. Many of those who are part of Soul Food communities speak of feeling lonely and isolated. This fact is why we feel that community is so important and that all of our meals are had around tables where conversation can flow, and friendships can be forged and grown. We ask church communities to host Soul Food meals because they offer community and friendship that extends well beyond the meal. Our tag line is #MoreThanAMeal. We hope that at each meal people find a place to belong and friendships and support that will life giving.
‘It has long been known that loneliness and social isolation have detrimental effects on our health, with outcomes comparable to smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. 1 in 10 people in Scotland report feeling lonely often.’ Edinburgh Poverty Commission
Many of our Soul Food meals have pensioners who come along to them. For some of them, it is not necessarily the fact that the meal is free, that is the draw. But more that they can meet with friends and become connected with other things throughout the week that mean they have company and conversation. St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Palmerston Place will shortly be opening a Wednesday lunchtime Soul Food, solely for pensioners.
How would isolation affect your mental health? Could you imagine having limited social networks?
Just a few questions! Inadequate really when thinking of the depths of poverty but maybe a little bit of a starter for 10. We will be writing throughout this week about ways in which we hope to challenge poverty, but for now, we will just leave you with one request:
We believe that everyone deserves an adequate income to live a dignified life and that it is possible to re-design our economy so that it works for all of us. We would love to develop our advocacy and campaigning impact. As Soul Food we do not want to be a ‘sticking plaster’ over the wound of injustice, we want to engage in being part of the change. If you would like to be part of this, we would really appreciate hearing from you. Could you help us advocate and campaign regularly and impactfully? If yes, please email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you. Please look out for further posts later this week where we will write more specifically about Soul Food and the Cost of Living Crisis and the ways in which you can be involved financially and voluntarily. Look out too, for posts from other organisations involved in #ChallengePovertyWeek, all of them believing we can #turnthetide.