Food vs iPads

 

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on Covid-19’s devastating fallout on the world’s  economy, food and people.

What has Covid-19 taught us so far? I have been researching and reading lots of articles and opinions by experts in the field of science, environment, food, health and well-being, poverty and social justice since this pandemic began and the devastating impact on the most vulnerable and poor amongst us. Many governments around the world have been supportive of their citizens in terms of offering financial support to keep people from going hungry and making sure they have a roof over their heads. Overall Western economies have given a lifeline to businesses and employees through financial stimulus packages never before seen on such a massive scale. In the UK austerity had propelled mass economic hardships on millions of families through a Tory ideology that made the poor, disabled and disadvantaged suffer for the chaos caused by the rich bankers and financial institutions since the 2008 recession. People that are paying with their lives are low waged, zero hour contract workers in this gig economy, where people are forced to take up work that benefits big corporations through tax breaks and other subsidies offered by politicians to their donors in exchange for either a peerage or directorships after losing elections or resigning; whichever comes first.

As a community interest company we have always looked at innovative solutions to tackle food poverty and highlight the underlying issues that are often overlooked by governments and local authorities in this country.  Since March this year child poverty has increased exponentially across the board with more families falling into economic hardship due to job losses or claiming benefits that are not fit for purpose in this day and age. We as an organisation have never shied away from pointing the finger at the real culprits in this avoidable saga i.e. our elected representatives, whether it’s our local councillors, MSP’s or MP. What can we do now to reverse this trend and abolish food poverty across the country? Councils across Scotland should be making more land available to local communities for converting to allotments and having a healthy supply of local food made available for all seasons. Weekly Farmers markets should be organised and subsidised by local authorities and government to encourage and inspire locals especially young people to look at growing food as a career option. Big landowners should lose their subsides for not growing food which we the tax payers pay for every year.

Growing food organically should be the norm and edible gardens should be made compulsory for all schools where growing methods are taught and pupils trained in this subject as part of the school curriculum. We were instrumental in building the first organic training garden in Scotland on school premises, right here in the Borders at St. Ronan’s Primary school, Innerleithen. This edible garden is still up and running and has a bright future for the school pupils, teachers and community. The legacy will live on for future generations of pupils to enjoy and learn new skills in farming and growing food with no reliance on corporations to supply their expensive fertilisers and pesticides which poison the environment and indirectly has a negative long term impact on the health of communities across Scotland and the world.

This pandemic has already increased food prices by over 40% and also taking into account previous increases of up to 35% since the Brexit vote, you get to see the bigger picture of millions in this country not able to buy good, affordable nutritious food.

Is it too much to ask our council to spend on educating young people in skills that will actually help save themselves and this country from starvation in any future global event? £15 million was made available for iPads and costs will keep mounting as the corporation that needs to feed its shareholders will only get hungry every year for more money and contracts. What is our priority as a society? Food or iPads?

You the people will decide.

Stay safe! Eat well!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 7th August 2020.

Furlough vs Key workers

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week its “Furlough vs Key Workers”.

Thanks to the Conservatives at Westminster the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic are Furlough workers. 80 percent of salaries paid for up to a limit of £2500 per month to more than 9 million employees across the United Kingdom. Though Furlough is not a recognised term in UK employment law, it is commonly used in the US to lay-off or suspend staff  without pay! Employers can also furlough those who are temporarily unable to work because; they’re ‘shielding’ (told to stay at home by the NHS because of an underlying health condition), someone in their household is shielding, they have childcare responsibilities and/or they’re caring for a vulnerable person in their household. The Furlough scheme; AKA Job Retention Scheme is open only to those workers/employees who are on payroll. Due to the complexities of this scheme, it has been reported that many employers and employees have been abusing the system to maximise their income as the current unemployment benefits like Universal Credits have huge caveats that are discouraging people from applying. Eg. savings threshold and the maximum amount available which is far less than the generous furlough payments. All in all Furlough workers have benefitted immensely from the Chancellors epic scheme.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Key workers. Before the pandemic these groups of people were considered unskilled workers and were subjected to zero hour contracts, low wages, no sick and holiday pay along with the special privilege of not being given work if they spoke up against their employers. These key workers were instrumental in keeping the country moving when the majority of furloughed staff were holidaying and enjoying their unexpected break which was paid for by the tax payers. Supermarket staff in Peebles, along with carers and other essential workers were forced to work in hazardous conditions eg. no PPE equipment and having no way to play the system by being furloughed so that they could protect themselves and their family and friends from the coronavirus. The salary of these so called key workers are very low and many find it had to make ends meet. Politicians don’t really care about these key workers because if they did, they would be passing legislation to increase the salaries of what we now know as being crucial to keep the economy and country moving. The Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) is a leading economy research institute based in the Department of Economics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The Covid-19 pandemic has awoken many to the role that key workers play in our society. But who exactly are they, and what do we know about them? This (FAI) research helps give us a basic understanding of this group of workers. For example, over a third of workers in Scotland are a key worker, this equates to approximately 920,000 people in Scotland and nearly half are in the public sector! Plus to make matters worse most key workers are women, work part-time and have the lowest wages. It’s interesting to note that Scottish Borders Council’s Chief Executive is a women, drawing a salary over £100,000, plus extra top-ups for any additional duties along with the Leader of the Council being the highest paid elected representative. These two women if they choose to do so, can make a huge difference by raising the salaries of the frontline staff but will choose not to, just in case it upsets the powers that be and may jeopardise their own salaries and positions.

So! The next time these elected representatives tell you to clap for the NHS and Key Workers, please think again and don’t fall for this con and deflection by the Conservatives. They really don’t care about anyone else other than themselves. What the Key Workers now need is a much needed  paid holiday and a raise. No more clapping! Will you as the public make this happen and hold your Politicians accountable?

To all Key Workers in Scotland, some of us have not forgotten you and thank you for all the sacrifices you have made.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 17th July 2020.

Tories pushing Scotland and rUK over the cliff

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on a Brexit extension beyond December 2020 and the devastating fallout on Scotland’s economy, food and people…

Michael Gove has done it again! The cheerleader for the Vote Leave campaign which was founded in October 2015 by political strategists Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings, has announced that the prime minister had been quite clear since the election about the government not extending the Brexit transition period beyond December 2020 come what may. What are the Leave campaigners up to now? Since the Tories won an outright majority in last year’s election, Boris Johnson has accelerated the process to get the whole of the UK out of the EU by the end of December 2020 under any circumstances. The reason being that they have been given a mandate by the people of England to crash out of the EU without a deal and create a trade deal with the US and any other country that may wish to form a new trade alliance with Great Britain!

Unfortunately for them “Coronavirus”  let rip through all their plans and has brought this great country to its knees in just a few months. So much for bringing back control and the good old days back to Great Britain. The arrogance of the Tory party and its decision to put the whole country in a state of panic and chaos for years to come is purely based on its narrow ideological views and is beyond rational thinking and strategy. The current pandemic has already raised food prices by more than 25 percent in a matter of weeks of the lockdown and does not look like it’s going to slow down. Families are struggling to put food on the table while at the same time suffering job losses, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. No one is saying to abandon leaving the EU but a sensible approach must be taken to mitigate the causes of the coronavirus pandemic first before embarking on this road to self-destruction. Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium has warned that the UK could face huge food shortages even worse than the impact of the coronavirus! He warned that a no deal Brexit could mean shortages of products like tomatoes and lettuces and highlighted, that in January alone around 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruits came to the UK from Europe. He further warned that a disorderly Brexit would mean that the country would face a bigger challenge than the food supply chain faced with Covid-19.

If no deal can be reached with the EU on future relations, concerns have been raised about the impact having to use World Trade Organisation rules would have on businesses. Over 35% of our food currently comes from Europe, and it is very likely that fresh vegetables and fruits, will become more scarce and more expensive in the event of a no deal Brexit.

So what can we do to make sure Scotland does not suffer due to Tory policies coming out from London? Write to your local MP and fill their inboxes with letters, come out in droves once lockdown restrictions are eased to their monthly surgeries to protest and finally keep the pressure on all elected representatives including your local councillors who also have a vested interest in making sure Scotland and its people do not go hungry.

Stay safe! Eat well!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 3rd July 2020.

Black Lives Matter

Having moved to Peebles in 2002,  ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s Black Lives Matter…

The murder of a Black man in America caught on film was so heart-breaking to watch, never mind the past of this man. Right-wing media like FOX News in America jumped on the bandwagon of spreading more lies than truth of George Floyds past in inflaming race tensions. This narrative was imported through social media right here in the UK and shared by many as the absolute truth including some of my Facebook friends! A token Black women became famous overnight among the white right-wing groups for speaking out against the media coverage of the killing. After doing some research on her background it came to light that she is a right-wing black conservative who also appears on, guess where? FOX News! This women’s name is Candace Owens and she is the designated “Gatekeeper” for the whites in America and a hero for right-wing extremists to justify the continuation of their racist ideology on her own people!

During the Scottish Independence campaign I realised who were my Unionist Facebook friends and now the Racists among them have shown their true colours. I am aware there are still a few closet racists who dare not comment or speak about such issues. We can never truly move forward as one human race, in peace, love and harmony if we don’t confront our past as a nation that committed horrific atrocities amounting to genocide on former colonies and their citizens around the world. The vested interests among us want their citizens to be ignorant so that when the time is right they can switch on the racist rhetoric that has been conditioned in their minds since school on the unsuspecting public. This is then used to fan racial tensions and violence to keep the status quo but also to sow hatred and fear among the non-whites living in the country. Our education system should teach the kids what their ancestors did and how this country became one of the richest in the world by committing rape, murder and looting of resources from its former colonies by express authorisation from the Queen! Even the Germans taught their children about Nazism so that they would not want to see a repeat of their shameful history.

Getting rid of statues will not solve this centuries old issue of race nor another commission on racial inequality when the real problem is in our hearts and minds.  We have reached the tipping point in this white western world where all policies; financial, social and economic have been controlled by the rich white elite one percent, who after the second world war  setup these very institutions to control their former colonies around the world.

That topic is for another time.

If we need to get rid of what truly represents our dark past as a nation then it’s time to remove the Monarchy and the Great! in Great Britain! Democracy will then have truly arrived on these islands.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 26th June 2020.

UK Food Standards Compromised After Brexit

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the Agriculture Bill going through Westminster and the House of Lords and the lowering of food import standards after Brexit.

I am lost for words as it is becoming very clear to me that the UK is heading for a new category called the “fourth world country” after the formalities of Brexit are over. Conservative MP’s in the South of Scotland region have voted against requiring new international treaties on the import of agricultural and food products to ensure products imported into the UK under those arrangements comply with World Trade Organisation safety rules and the UK’s own standards. To explain in a lay persons term, we have been screwed by Tories David Mundell (Clydesdale and Tweeddale and Berwickshire), John Lamont ( Dumfriesshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) and Alister Jack (Dumfries and Galloway) in accessing good food after Brexit.

328 MP’s including two Labour MP’s voted against the above amendment to safeguard our high standards and protect farmers livelihoods, while 277 cross party MP’s voted to keep them. Independent experts and researchers were sceptical about the Tories keeping their promises of not lowering food standards post Brexit as America clearly stated publicly that in order for a trade agreement between the two countries all sectors of the economy will have to be on the table for negotiations and according to US standards. This bill before the UK parliament was also a first of its kind to be voted on by MP’s electronically and was passed on 13th May 2020.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) and a number of animal welfare and environmental organisations wrote to all 650 MP’s pleading them to make sure the new Agriculture Bill guaranteed that all imported food coming into the UK after Brexit and trade deals currently being negotiated meet the same high standards of environmental protection and animal welfare as is expected of any local food producer. Some of the organisations that put their names to this letter were; NFU, RSPCA, Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust, Greenpeace and many more. The NFU President Minette Batters highlighted the real differences between food production in the UK and other countries which includes the US;

Abattoirs use chlorine or other chemicals to wash carcases which are not allowed in the UK because we have legislation on the way we keep our livestock, limiting stocking density;  We have rules on bio security, lighting, diet and veterinary oversight; Battery cage egg production is still permitted in some countries but was banned here in 2012; Meat and bone meal in feed which was banned in the UK over 24 years ago is still allowed elsewhere; In Brazil, farmers don’t need a Vet’s prescription for animal medicines and don’t need to record treatments. These are just a few examples that will compromise the high UK standards already in place with the new Agriculture Bill.

This bill now moves to the Lords for a second reading and hopefully it is voted out and sent back to the government for a major rethink of this once in a lifetime opportunity to keep the high standards achieved over decades in place and not torn to shreds for a desperate trade deal with the US of A. What will happen if this bill passes into law? Readers may have come across this headline a few years ago; “Get ready for cheap chlorinated chicken and hormone filled beef flooding the UK in a new trade deal with the US”. Not only will the health of citizens in this country be badly impacted by cheap imports but our farmers will not be able to compete with food produced in the US as its widely known how lax the regulations are, if any.

The Tories are running around in circles and trying to get a bad trade deal with Trump at any cost. Rebel Conservatives and Labour amendments to hold the government to previous promises made to protect British and Scottish food and farming were defeated, thanks to our own elected low life’s and career politicians. What will it take to boot the Conservatives out of this area? Is it death squads via Covid-19 or slow food poisoning of the electorate? Well! That’s the choice you have and if you decide to vote these corrupt individuals again that put themselves, Queen and Power before the people than I am sorry to say what’s coming next will completely be our fault. It’s not too late to take our elected MP’s to task and hold them accountable.

Stay safe! Eat well!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 1st May 2020.

Corporations squeezing out small businesses due to Covid-19

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, self-proclaimed ‘stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s Big Corporations and the stranglehold they are having on communities and small businesses across the world.

COVID-19 or Coronavirus, no matter what you call this pandemic that is killing thousands of humans around the world, one thing for sure, its consolidating power and money in fewer hands, again! Some of the biggest names in the business world are making huge profits due to this virus as their companies will tend to benefit from billions of dollars that governments from all across the world will pay, in the hope to find a vaccine or cure. Fear is the key for making people believe in the lies they will peddle to gain more control over our lives. The UK Covid-19 benefit scheme once again helps big businesses while smaller and medium size establishments are left high and dry. It is laughable to see billionaires like Richard Branson asking for government bailouts while relaxing on his island. It is also shameful to see our politicians pander to the rich by passing legislation during these times that will help consolidate these corporations even more at the expense of small to medium sized businesses.

Covid-19 may also leave us with the global and local economy in fewer hands mostly made up of big companies that will increase their share of profits, employment opportunities, government subsidies and tax breaks for the wealthy. The stock market has seen an exponential rise in share prices of global corporations like Amazon and Big Pharma, that are decimating small business everywhere they go. India is facing a massive crisis where the government has allowed big operators in the market to continue their dominance while restricting small business. Many of these small businesses will not survive as they are not getting the same financial support from the government. Closer to home in Scotland it is slightly different but the same logic of providing full financial support to big companies in terms of furlough, grants and zero interest loans continues. In the US from the mid 90’s to the middle of this decade, workers employed by companies with 10,000 or more staff increased by 4% raising it to overall 30% of the employment share of the market. Capitalist among you will repeat the mantra “markets will decide”  knowing well that the markets are failing citizens during this pandemic across the world, which is why governments have to step in to protect and provide for its citizens(tax payers).

This trend towards the rich getting richer will only accelerate if we, the people, don’t challenge and confront our politicians to stop and reverse this process. Companies like Amazon will completely control both the supply and distribution chain and will leave many to work as self-employed or zero hour contractors with no pensions and other benefits while at the same time getting tax breaks and subsidies to create jobs from the government!

The biggest negative impact this crisis is having will be on our well-being both financially and emotionally long term. It’s time to wake up and challenge the way business has always been done and hold our politicians to account once and a for all.

The revolution is coming but maybe not in Peebles as too many people here are living a very comfortable life and will not take any steps to challenge the status quo.

Stay safe!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 1st May 2020.

Reality Bites as UK needs Farmworkers from the EU

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director 

What a fine mess we find ourselves in during the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world. The sector that was already struggling before the virus hit us was farming. Due to the rise of English nationalism which was followed by Brexit and the unwelcoming attitudes of all Brexiteers to European nationals; we now fully understand the contributions to sectors like farming made by nationals from Romania and other eastern European nations. Citizens of these countries were doing the jobs British folk considered lowly and beneath them. Take into consideration that these jobs are mostly low paid and seasonal and also having to wake up at 4am! You get the picture why these jobs are not popular with the locals. Farmers faced the first wave of labour shortages soon after the EU referendum in 2016 and only got worse over the years until the final nail in the coffin was delivered by the people of England who voted overwhelming to elect a Conservative & Unionist government to get Brexit done. Where does that leave us now? Farmers are now complaining that they need over 70,000 seasonal workers this year from Britain to make up those workers who will not be coming or can’t come due to the hostile nature and immigration rules imposed by the Tories on the whole of the United Kingdom. Repeated pleas made by the Scottish government to have separate immigration rules for Scotland has fallen on deaf years by Boris Johnson and his government.

“Feed the Nation” was a major hiring drive initiated by the three main recruiters(HOPS, Concordia & Fruitful Jobs) in agriculture to attract locals to fill the jobs now left vacant during the coronavirus pandemic. It attracted more than 27,000 applicants  but just over 4000 took up an offer for an interview. Other EU countries like Germany are allowing over 80,000 seasonal farm workers to come from Eastern Europe to help harvest crops during the peak season. All workers will have to be flown by air, undergo the necessary medical tests and follow social distancing guidelines while on the farms.

There is a simple solution to this problem! Why don’t all the Brexiteers now come forward to save queen and country? Brexit means Brexit! So please signup along with your family and friends who voted to leave the EU and save Britain once again; by getting off your backside and taking back control of your farms from EU/foreign workers. As this goes to print six charter flights have already landed in England bringing around 400 workers from Romania in the first of many flights in the coming weeks. Fruit and vegetable pickers will be specially flown in to meet demand and shortage of farm workers. 99 percent of seasonal agriculture jobs are filled by eastern Europeans, namely Romanians and Bulgarians according to the Office of National Statistics as reported in 2018.

Scotland is at a big disadvantage in this crisis as part of the United Kingdom as it has no powers to operate and do what it thinks is right for its farmers and citizens.

It will be an absolute scandal if crops are left to rot due to a shortage of farm workers and this will only make the current shortage of food worse, expensive and beyond the reach of normal citizens. Food poverty rates have already spiralled out of control during the lockdown and the battle to feed the nation would be lost due to political apathy and negligence. Brexit will just tip us over the edge.

It’s not too late to change course.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 1st May 2020.

Universal Basic Income: Sign of our times – Part Two

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, self-proclaimed ‘stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. In this final column of a two-part series, it’s Universal Basic Income!

In my previous column I explained that Universal Basic Income is an amount of money given to citizens universally, sufficient to cover basic needs & free of conditions. In other words basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. I also compared the economic devastation that the virus has inflicted on the poor and working class around the world who are mainly daily wage earners, freelancers, working on zero hour contracts and self-employed.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced policies to help support businesses and employees including the self-employed, albeit with many restrictions, rules and thresholds which ultimately will not support the very people I have described above. The Tories since 2010 have been instrumental in decimating our public services in the name of balancing the books and targeting the welfare state for sins of the corporation and banks. They started the policy of social cleansing and now are promoting social distancing!

So! What are the benefits of universal basic income to society? For starters it could help support unpaid care workers, ending abuse where normally it’s the women who are trapped in a violent relationship and don’t have the means to leave the relationship, ending poverty, helping blue collar workers who are being made redundant due to technology and automation, discouraging low wages, and most important it will eliminate the social security system once and for all. There are many positives to doing away with the current system in place which only perpetuates stigma and stereotyping about anyone claiming benefits.

Right-wing parties (Tories/UKIP/BNP/Brexit Party) and the tabloid press, target vulnerable and hardworking communities. The system is not user friendly and very complicated due to different levels of thresholds (pre Universal Credit) but the current Universal Credit being introduced is far worse than the previous one because it tries and fails miserably to combine six very different benefits. A lot of stress and anxiety is caused to navigate the system and is prone to errors from the beginning. We need a complete rethink of the way all citizens are helped and supported from a financial standpoint. This is where universal basic income comes in to alleviate all the problems and issues of the current system which relies on means testing if you are eligible for these benefits and many are not because of the savings limit. The government will also save huge amounts of money spent just trying to administer these benefits as all individuals will be given a lump sum amount to pay for all basic necessities and expenses which include; rent/mortgage, food, utilities, clothing, travel etc.

With all the basics covered everyone will be free to be creative and entrepreneurial in their thinking and attitudes towards work. This will allow many to start a business or take up a new career without having to think about the financial fallout of their decision. We will have a better society with communities across the country taking pride in their new found financial freedom. We have been brainwashed into believing that the trickle down economic policies work but what it has managed to do was to create a big divide between the rich (1%) and poor (99%). If money is handed out to each and every adult in the country they will be spend it on local businesses and keep the money circulating in the country rather than through  shareholders and CEO’s siphoning all the profits to tax-free overseas accounts!

Finally what should we pay out to each individual per month? Reform Scotland a Think-tank recently published the following figures; £5200 a year (£433 per month) for every resident in Scotland and £2600 (£217 per month) for all under-16’s. They reckon it will cost the Scottish government  around £20.4 billion a year and monies could be raised by increasing income tax and scrapping personal allowances and some benefits. Though I agree with the general theme of this policy, it’s too little to make a difference to the very people we are trying to help. The cost of living has skyrocketed since the 2008 financial crash and matters have only got worse since this pandemic with prices of many food items increasing by 30%.

If the UK government and all devolved administrations don’t come up with a viable solution soon, I am afraid we are quickly moving into unknown territory. Food shortages and lack of safety equipment is causing riots around the globe and it is not far before we may see a similar situation enfolding on these islands. I hope common sense and empathy from our politicians prevail and they guide us through this crisis in a compassionate manner.

Please stay at home and be safe.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 17th April 2020.

The first part was published on Friday 20th March edition of the Peeblesshire News.

Radical changes to our food policies

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

It’s been a week now since we are in semi-lockdown and what a emotional roller coaster it has been for all of us here in the UK and around the globe. Since news went viral on social media that 3 cases of coronavirus have been identified in the Borders, locals in the region went berserk with shoppers driving to all the main supermarkets and panic buying food and toilet paper! I am yet to understand the logic behind toilet paper, but never mind. Pasta, tin foods, bread, fish, chicken, cheap fresh foods, hand sanitisers, alcohol were flying off the shelves within hours. By next day the supermarkets were looking like a warzone or as if it were attacked by zombies! The apocalypse was truly here. Many elderly and vulnerable adults were left with no access to their normal shopping items as these maniacs went on a wild rush to hoard as many items as possible. I saw cars and people carriers being stuffed with toilet paper and all other fresh food items that would in my opinion either be frozen or wasted in a couple of days.

Unfortunately I was right as news reports from all over the country saw a huge spike in food waste! What a disgrace and a typical human response in times of crisis. Many people become selfish, greedy and paranoid and in these difficult times its always the rich that can buy and hoard goods in their big houses and garages while the majority of us have to pray and hope that we don’t have to resort to cannibalism to survive. Just kidding by the way! Food and other essentials are slowly making their way onto the shelves and thankfully people are realising that we are all in this together and sanity seems to be coming back into our lives as we don’t want the scenario of a Mad Max movie, where instead of oil we are fighting and killing for food.

You Can Cook was setup in 2007 after doing my research and finding out a few key issues with food and the supply chain. First, many people did not know how to cook from scratch, second over 70% of our food came from abroad, a disaster waiting to happen as the current crisis clearly shows us the fallacy of this policy, and third we don’t grow enough food on these islands to feed the whole population, while government and European Union policies dictated paying farmers grants and subsidies not to grow food! This economic policy is what has led to a big divide between the rich and poor countries, whereby we in the developed West are using developing and third world countries to grow food on our behalf while the citizens of those countries are forced to grow foods for the western markets eg. soya, at the expense of not growing their own staple foods.

On these islands growing food has never been so important and we as part of a holistic approach to tackling these problems work to alleviate and empower communities across Scotland through cooking and growing. Please visit our website www.youcancook.org for more health related information and loads of recipes to try while you and your family are self-isolating.

Take care.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on 3rd April 2020.

Universal Basic Income: Sign of our times

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, self-proclaimed ‘stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. In this first of a two-part series, it’s Universal Basic Income!

What is Universal Basic Income! It’s an amount of money given to citizens universally, sufficient to cover basic needs & free of conditions. In other words basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Many don’t realise that this is not a new concept and was thought about in the early 80’s to tackle what was then seen by many visionary’s as impending doom for the workers by rampant automation of many jobs from factories to retail and financial services.

We are already in the grip of a worldwide coronavirus pandemic and realisation is dawning on guardians of our current economic systems across the world; that drastic changes need to be made to support citizens in times of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing. The UK like many countries in Europe and some parts of the world, put in place a welfare net to catch people falling behind in life either of their own making or due to circumstances beyond their control. Since 2010 the Tories with support from the Lib-Dems took a wrecking ball to our welfare state which has impacted the most vulnerable amongst us, the working class, disabled, single parents, students, young people and the unemployed.

The current crisis shows us why a complete rethink is required if we have to survive this crisis and any future pandemics. The majority of the UK workforce is living under a gig economy i.e. zero hour and temporary contracts with no sick pay or any other entitlements when compared to permanent employees. Self-employed individuals like myself are always facing the full force of any economic disaster or policy changes by newly elected governments.

The recent budget announcement did not have any good news for the self-employed, low income earners and people claiming in work benefits. The  current rate of Statutory Sick Pay is £94.25 a week, way below what is currently offered in other European nations; e.g. in Germany its £287 and Sweden £230. Currently if you are self-employed or earn below the £118 threshold per week, you are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay! This also means that many workers who are on zero hour contracts or whose status is self-employed will be hit the hardest by the self-isolate policy. It’s also a wakeup call for many that were cheering the Tories for cutting the benefits of many citizens that were mostly in low wage jobs and who relied on tax credits to top up their earnings.

Latest predictions by many economic think-tanks have warned the government to brace themselves for massive lay-offs. redundancies and job losses which will be in the millions. I hope people will realise the importance of the welfare state now and will not rush to judgement on those that access these benefits as they seldom are living a life of luxury but making ends meet on a measly income provided by the state.

By the time this goes to print the UK may have initiated lockdown procedures and as per governments own advice those citizens that show symptoms of the virus should self-isolate for 14 days thereby reducing the risk of transmission to others. Next month I will look at the benefits to society if Universal Basic Income is introduced and the huge savings by doing away with the current system. Until then take care folks and self-isolate if necessary.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on 20th March 2020.

The second part will be published on Friday 17th April edition of the Peeblesshire News.