Cost Of Living Crisis in Rich Britain

 

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the cost-of-living crisis in the 5th richest country in the world according to GDP.

In my previous columns I have tackled specific aspects of the state of this country since 2010 and the deliberate and callous attitude by the Tories at Westminster to undermine and reduce the welfare state, first created by Labour after World War II. Since the pandemic began and lockdowns were first initiated in March 2020, we at You Can Cook were stopped right in our tracks by the inability to deliver any of our services to communities locally and across Scotland. A huge loss to many that relied on our services and the nutritious and delicious food that many accessed and enjoyed while learning to cook and eat healthy meals daily for themselves and their families.

We have seen a consistent rise in people and children going hungry because of benefit cuts and sanctions imposed via the DWP on parents; that due to unemployment, disability and lack of opportunities had their only source of income abruptly cut. Add the rise in energy costs since April and we are now in a perfect storm. In many cases we stepped in to provide extra food through our cookery classes so that participants could take home with them meals to share with their families. As an organisation we have been at the forefront of this crisis helping support struggling children and their parents who could not afford to buy food. I will never forget seeing children feeling tired and coming to school hungry because their parents could not feed them breakfast in the morning or even worse dinner the night before!

Since Brexit this problem only got worse due to rising costs of basic foods and putting a huge financial strain on many working-class families and those that have to rely on benefits for no fault of their own. The pandemic, job loses, reduction of benefits and now the unfolding energy crisis has already pushed millions into debt, poverty, homelessness and mental health problems. We have just started to deliver our cookery sessions this year and have already seen a huge increase in the prices of essential commodities like milk, bread, fresh vegetable and fruits, meats, and many other staple foods. The ability to provide extra support has been jeopardised due to high price increases. Children unfortunately are facing the brunt of this situation as they are left feeling vulnerable, hungry and desperate for some relief. The Scottish government is doing it best to mitigate the shambolic rolling out of Universal Credit which is the root of the problem and forcing even more citizens on to foodbanks like never before.

As an organisation we have been in a unique position to help and support the most vulnerable in our community and we have spoken truth to power. Our organisation is not funded by local or national governments. This gives us leverage to raise difficult issues with politicians and bureaucrats albeit at a financial cost to ourselves. Trying to raise awareness about nutritious foods and how to access fresh produce is in jeopardy as the massive price increases in the last few years is making it impossible to convince and motivate people to swap their ready meals for some fresh home cooked meal. Foodbanks are here to stay and have become part of the welfare state. A sad state of affairs in modern Britain.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 6th May 2022

What is the Good Food Nation Bill?

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the good food nation bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament last year in a two-part series.

Last Sunday I was invited to be part of the BBC Radio 4 “The Food Programme”. You Can Cook along with Locavore; Edinburgh’s new organic and ethical supermarket. Our organisations were the only two social enterprises that took part in this programme that assess the country’s health and food system, and looked at what opportunities and hurdles lie ahead as the Good Food Nation Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament last year by MSP Mairi Gougeon for Angus North and Mearns and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

So, what is the Good Food Nation Bill? The Bill requires the Scottish Ministers and certain public bodies to create Good Food Nation Plans. The relevant bodies identified in the Bill are health boards and local authorities (or councils). Other public bodies may be required to produce plans in the future. The Scottish Ministers and relevant authorities need to have regard to these plans when carrying out certain functions. These functions will be set out by the Scottish Ministers in secondary legislation that will be considered by the Parliament. The Bill was created to support the ambition of the Scottish Government that Scotland becomes a ‘Good Food Nation’. In 2014, the Scottish Government published a discussion document titled ‘Recipe for Success: Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy – Becoming a Good Food Nation’ which made a commitment that by 2025, Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day”.

The Bill encompasses the following key concepts:

1. the people of Scotland taking a keen interest in their food;
2. the people who serve and sell food ensuring that it is good quality food;
3. everyone in Scotland having easy access to the healthy and nutritious food that they need;
4. dietary related diseases declining;
5. the environmental impact of food consumption decreasing; and
6. Scottish producers ensuring that what they produce is increasingly healthy and environmentally sound.

Children in Scotland have responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Good Food Nation Bill, calling for the right to food to be incorporated into Scots law. Some readers may be aware that the ‘right to food’ Scotland bill covers very different aspects of food and was proposed by Labour MSP Rhona Grant and the intention is to incorporate the bill in Scots law. In the final part of my column, I will look at what the Good Food Nation Bill actually does in practice and the importance of linking it with the Right to Food Scotland Bill in order to have a positive and long-term impact on Scotland’s population and environment.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 4th March 2022

COP26 – Another Opportunity to save our planet

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the on-going COP26 in Glasgow and the hope that politicians and world leaders come together to fight climate change that will affect all life on the planet.

The COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, began last Sunday 31st October in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow and will conclude on the 12th November. The biggest challenge facing the world is not climate change deniers but the rich western countries, corporations and politicians who have been catering to their local population and their ideologies. For example, in America the Christian right and the majority of the Republican party leadership do not believe in climate change and that humans are the biggest contributing factor. Billions of pounds have been spent over the years so far on refining buzz words and creating technical jargon to market the impending climate catastrophe to the lay person and many millions more spent to keep these updated as new evidence is available. Below are a few examples;

UNFCCC – The UN framework convention on climate change, which was signed in 1992 in Brazil dubbed the Rio Earth summit, binds all of the world’s nations – apart from a few countries – to “avoid dangerous climate change”. However, it did not set out in detail how to do so.

Kyoto protocol – This was the first attempt in 1997 to turn the UNFCCC’s resolution into what came to be known as the Kyoto protocol. This set targets on emissions cuts for each developed country, stipulating a 5% cut in global greenhouse gases overall by 2012. Developing countries, including China, were allowed to increase their emissions. But the protocol immediately ran into trouble when the US, which signed the treaty under Bill Clinton, could not ratify it owing to opposition in Congress. The protocol eventually came into force without US backing, in 2005, but by then was largely irrelevant, so countries set out on the long journey to a new treaty that would fulfil the UNFCCC aims, resulting eventually in the 2015 Paris accord.

The Paris Agreement – In December 2015 developed and developing nations came together to limit greenhouse gases. The main goal of the Paris agreement was to limit global heating to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to stay within the lower, safer threshold of 1.5C. Countries set out targets to stay within those limits, in the form of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

The most vague and ambiguous one is NDC – Nationally Determined Contribution. Every country signed this as part of their target to reduce greenhouse gasses by around 2030! The Paris accord contains a mechanism by which every country must improve its target every five years, so the next NDC’s will be submitted by December 2030. Many countries have yet to submit their first five-year targets, as they were due in December 2020 but delayed due to Covid-19. Here is hoping that they do submit this data during COP26.

While I was writing this column, news just came in that a cruise ship procured by the government to host COP26 attendees will have to run on fossil fuels despite being equipped to use clean energy. These ships can usually connect to electricity while docked at ports, enabling them to switch off their auxiliary engines, but the port hosting the two ships does not have onshore power capabilities for medium or large vessels.

Billionaires should be focusing their massive wealth on saving our planet first before trying to inhabit other planets to repeat the same mistakes. Fingers crossed, COP26 will be a success as pressure is mounting on world leaders to act now!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 5th November 2021

COP26 Glasgow 2021 – Scotland’s Time to Shine on the World Stage – Part II

 

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, continues in this second and final part of his two-part column to share his thoughts on the real reasons behind the apathy from pursuing urgent climate policies, the current status-quo’s main benefactors along with possible ideas and solutions to empower citizens of the world to help save our planet.

Why this apathy from governments and corporations across the globe in rejecting fossil fuels and fully embracing renewables?  The answer is our insatiable thirst for cheap oil and the powerful lobby that controls all aspects of the economy. Since the 1960’s there has been a growing movement by environmentalist in the West to raise awareness and educate its citizens on the devastating impact of oil on the planet since the industrial revolution. The eco-system, indigenous cultures and people have faced the brunt of big corporations and countries like the US and UK bulldozing their way through developing and third world countries in search of oil and other resources to feed their ever-growing consumerism.

China was chosen by Western corporations to become the intensive factory producing country of all its goods to be then transported all across the globe. The narrative globally is that China is one of the main polluters of the world. Of course, it is, what were you expecting when your own country closes most of its manufacturing industries and transfers all production to China because of its lax labour laws, non-existing human rights and the fear of a communist state to force its people to work in sometimes hostile and unsafe conditions. The world has bankrolled the communist state of China and turned a blind eye to all atrocities committed by the Chinese state in exchange for cheap goods and low environmental standards. Scotland like the rest of the UK, Europe, Japan and the US are all poised to meet their carbon emissions target. But this is a lie and misleading. So long as China keeps producing over 70% of the world’s goods, it will also be responsible for high carbon emissions.

The main beneficiaries of this one-sided trade arrangements are the biggest oil corporations like BP, Shell, etc. the list goes on. Shareholders and CEOs are making a killing in profits and will continue to do so if we don’t take action now. I sometimes feel we have already crossed the line of no return and we all are heading towards the cliff.

On a positive note, we had some good news last weekend, were members of the Green Party and the SNP voted to sign a deal making it a coalition government in the Scottish parliament. This gave the Scottish Greens its first attempt at being in government anywhere in the whole of the UK. Members from both political parties voted overwhelmingly in support of the agreement. Since the COP26 climate conference is to be held soon in Glasgow, this will give the ruling coalition plenty of time to formulate a green message to be delivered by Scotland in Scotland to the rest of the world.

Citizens from across the globe should work together in not supporting heavy fossil fuel industries by delinking from any financial gains currently being received in the forms of investments, shares and pensions. By switching to alternate providers that are ethical and support the environment, this will starve these industries of much needed cash to keep drilling for more oil. Politicians and civil servants should have in their contracts a clause forbidding them to be in a position to gain financially from the oil industry. Fossil fuel lobbyists should be banned from meeting any government officials elected or otherwise and all policies relating to fossil fuels should be made available to the general public for scrutiny before passing into law. Heavy fines should be imposed depending on company or individuals’ income as sometimes a few millions worth of fines is a drop in the ocean for oil corporations.

Here is hoping the human race stands together to fight greed and corruption and put mother nature first.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 3rd September 2021.

UK Government to phase out £20 per week extra support to Universal Credit Claimants!

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 the Tories announcement to phase out the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit introduced last year during lockdown to help individuals and families struggling financially due to the pandemic.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told MPs last week that the £20 boost – introduced in April last year to Universal Credit to help deal with the economic effects of Covid – would be phased out by end of September. Devastating news for people on low income who rely on the state to top-up their meagre wages. We are now at the mercy of the Tories who have an overwhelming majority at Westminster thanks to English voters. Six former work and pensions secretaries have urged ministers to keep the £20 top up until the economy stabilises and claimants don’t suffer financially in the short term. Ms Coffey said the change had been a “collective decision” by ministers. The prime minister said the government is focusing on a “jobs-led” recovery from the pandemic, and was keen to “get people into work”. What planet do these Tories live on? Tory MP and their family, friends and donors have hugely benefitted financially from the pandemic. In my previous columns I have named and shamed these individuals and their companies and the billions lost due to tax payer funded schemes like furlough, contracts, etc. Tens of thousands of people did not claim universal credit during the early part of the pandemic because they felt too ashamed to sign on benefits, often despite struggling to pay rent and bills, a study has found.

Universal credit is claimed by almost 6 million households in the UK and was introduced by Tory Ian Duncan Smith in the early years of the Tories winning the election in 2010 but with Liberal Democrats as their coalition partners to replace six benefits and merge them into one benefit payment for working-age people. Many sane and educated people voted for the Tories in order to get rid of the so called “benefit scroungers”. Little did voters realise that the Tories in fact were taking apart a generous, fair and equitable welfare state to line their pockets instead. Karma is a universal concept well known in the east as a way of reminding people that what goes around come around. Strange that the very people who fell for the demonisation of the working class and people claiming benefits found themselves in dire straits financially last year during the pandemic as the state did not provide them with the safety net that this country built for its citizens exactly for such a scenario. This country is part of the G7 club, i.e., the seven richest countries on this planet! The question we citizens need to ask is where is all this money? And who is reaping the financial benefits? Tory MP’s and their families and friends have been directly or indirectly linked to companies that have financially gained from this arrangement from the Corporation that have contracts to deliver the various benefit systems, NHS contracts in England and Wales and major public service contracts like the BBC’s licensing fees!

Poverty campaigners have spoken out against removing this £20 per week top-up and have asked the government to make this permanent keeping in mind inflation and also the steep rise in food and other essentials since Brexit this year. This top-up amounts to a measly £1000 a year per household, but this has made the difference for some families between getting by and falling further into poverty. Overall, about 500,000 people in the UK chose not to claim universal credit, even though they most likely would have been entitled to it, the study found.  The perceived stigma around benefits – with some people feeling, they were for “dole scroungers” and “freeloaders” – meant many refused state help, or put off making a claim until they ran into serious difficulty.

We are no longer living in a humane society, and we treat animals better than our fellow human beings. Something has gone terribly wrong in Great Britain! It’s no longer great.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 16 July 2021.

Scottish Democracy Prevails in 2021

SNP win 4th term at Holyrood

What a milestone for the SNP to be elected for a fourth consecutive term despite the negative and scare mongering tactics used by the Unionist parties and media. Scotland is truly ready to go it alone with its own written constitution, that is not ambiguous and vague and will stand up for the most vulnerable and weak in society. Boris Johnson has no reason or excuse anymore to deny the rights of the Scottish electorate. Democratic voting is not once in a lifetime exercise and England has this opportunity to switch back to being part of Europe if it wishes too and nobody can stop or stand in its way if it changes its mind tomorrow. The Scots will stand and support the English in exercising their democratic right to change their mind. For those you are spinning the results to suit their agenda and undermine democracy, here are some basic facts;

1-  If Scotland had a first past the post system like Westminster, then the SNP would have won between 108 and 110 seats in a 129-seat parliament. But instead, they won 62 out of 73 constituencies and only picked up 2 seats on the regional lists even though they had the highest number of votes.

2 – David Cameron fought the 2015 general elections on holding a referendum on Brexit and won by a 37% vote share, while the SNP has won 48% of the votes share. No argument here for a second Independence Referendum as the above stats don’t lie. The democratic will of the people has to be respected.

3 – The third most important point to make is that the voting system imposed by Westminster on the Scottish electorate is proportional representation i.e. The D’Hondt system. This is designed specifically not to give any single party an outright majority, which is why its technically wrong to say that the SNP have not won a majority!

This system is definitely much fairer than the one used at Westminster elections and should be replaced too as that will make English voters not lose their votes in the current first past the post system.

And finally, to sum up the negative campaign run by the Unionists parties who only focused on stopping IndyRef 2! You had plenty of time to make the case for an equal Union but instead you tried to ram your elitist ideology down people’s throats and introduced degrading policies and economic decisions that hurt the common people the most. The canny Scots once again saw through this hollow Unionism and here is hoping that in an independent Scotland, Unionists will focus on real needs of real people and not just the financial needs of their family and friends.

Please remember you can stop voting for the SNP in an Independent Scotland as other parties will be formed to keep the SNP on track in delivering a better Scotland for all.

Letter to the Editor published in the Peeblesshire News on 14th May 2021

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.