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
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
This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on veganism in a two-part series.
Its 2022 and here is hoping this year gets better than the previous two years! The first part of this two-part column will focus on what is veganism and why it’s becoming a lifestyle choice for many citizens around the planet. Climate change has not only made us aware of the dangers of pollution and life on this planet via extraction and burning of fossil fuels; but also put our food choices right in the mix too. Since the industrialisation of our food began in true earnest in the 60’s, humankind has been pushing life on earth to its extremes.
So, what is veganism? In a nutshell, a vegan is someone who restricts themselves to a plant-based diet and has no animal ingredients directly or indirectly in their diet. A vegan also makes choices that don’t support the exploitation and cruelty to animals for clothing, cosmetic research or any other purpose and by doing so promotes the development and use of animal free alternatives. Veganism as a term came into existence in 1944 when some members of the British Vegetarian Society wanted a space in their regular newsletter specifically for people who avoided all animal products in diet including eggs and all dairy products. When the request was rejected by the Vegetarian Society, a gentleman named Donald Watson coined the term “Vegan” and created a new quarterly publication whose subscribers included the legendary George Bernard Shaw. Veganism took a long time to grow and become popular and from being a fad and celebrity endorsed diet it is now becoming mainstream and very popular among environmentalist and the health-conscious younger generation who are more in tune with the climate challenges facing the planet.
Readers may also know that a vegetarian is different from a vegan; while a vegetarian will consume milk and milk related products, eggs, honey to name a few but a vegan will not. Latest poll figures show that a third of the UK are interested in becoming vegans! Going vegan will also likely increase your education and your awareness regarding your diet and what’s good for you and what’s not. By learning about proper nutrition, you may be able to increase your health level, which may give you all kinds of advantages in your life and will also likely increase your life expectancy. In our current technological state, it is also rather easy to go vegan compared to centuries ago. Through the internet, you can get plenty of delicious recipes and also some tips on how to avoid mistakes related to veganism. We recently launched our YouTube Recipe channel and every Friday new and exciting recipes will be uploaded which include a good selection of vegan dishes.
Veganism and the related vegan diet have become quite popular over the past decade. People become more aware of their health and many of us also want to avoid supporting the factory farming industry. Going vegan has many important advantages, however, it also implies serious downsides. It is on you to decide whether a vegan diet is the right way to go or not. Before making this decision, make sure to check out all the pros and cons of veganism in order to make a profound decision since it could heavily influence your quality of life as well as your health.
Thus, going vegan is a great way to save our animals, to increase our health levels and to slow down global warming at the same time. Veganism involves the openness to change in order to prevent suffering, the willingness to be creative and to cook healthy tasteful meals. Next month we will look at the pros and cons of being a vegan.
Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 7th January 2022
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 toxic Universal Credit system which is disproportionately affecting the disabled, working poor and low-income families.
A very long time ago I had written about the shambles that would be Universal Credit, a policy introduced by Tory MP Ian Duncan Smith to make poverty disappear and work pay. All very good, since he had this epiphany while touring Easterhouse a council estate in Glasgow in 2002. This tour was carried out for his Think Tank Centre for Social Justice which was set up to find solutions to poverty in modern Britain.
Public memory is short-lived and our MPs know this, as even though they are responsible for the worst atrocities (benefit cuts) committed during peacetime on the British public, the Tories have managed to consolidate their power and even influence the working class to vote for them in the last general elections by blaming the ‘other’, in this case European citizens living and working in the UK. Brexit and Covid have decimated the livelihoods of millions of citizens and their families with many losing their jobs overnight and many having to resort to food banks to make ends meet and provide food for their children. The £20 top-up that was provided to every single claimant of universal credit last year has now been withdrawn, leaving many to fall back on food banks, loan sharks and if living in private rented accommodation at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who are waiting to evict tenants who cannot pay their rent. I have said this before, in principle I do agree with the concept of Universal Credit as it was designed to incorporate six benefits into one. But in practice it was a disaster as the founders of this system; The Centre for Social Justice, were clueless about the complexities of the previous benefit system. There is still no evidence that Universal Credit is getting people into work compared to the previous system by the Labour government in 1999, while the costs of implementing it has risen to over £1.4 billion.
The National Audit Office said that the controversial five week wait for a first universal credit payment continued to exacerbate many claimants’ debt problems and push them into hardship. Vulnerable claimants – including those with physical, mental or learning disabilities, people with few digital skills, or with chaotic lives – were more likely to struggle with their claim, the NAO said, with the complicated process of moving onto the benefit causing payment delays and financial problems for these claimants.
On a final note, the £20 top-up was actually what amount claimants would have been receiving today if taking inflation into account and had the Tories not cut the benefit amount and thresholds of Housing, Working Tax and Child Tax Credits. The rich have got richer and the poor are made to fight among themselves. Divide and rule, the classic British policy is now being used on its own citizens for keeping the status quo.
Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 8th October 2021
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.
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 UK governments voting down of providing free school meals for pupils across England.
The Tories have gone and done it again! These bunch of self-serving crooks voted against a Labour motion to extend the provision of free school meals for children in England until Easter 2021. The most nauseating and disgusting thing about this vote last week was that five out of six Scottish Conservative and Unionist party MP’s voted against allowing fresh hot meals for pupils in England, while the Leader of the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross conveniently abstained from voting due to his so called commitments in Scotland! Just imagine for a moment the Scottish Conservatives and Unionist party winning a majority in the Scottish parliament in next year’s Scottish election! Yes! It did send shivers down my spine, as these bunch of hypocrites including our very own MP David Mundell, who the public voted for as their MP again last year will have to fully shoulder the blame of poverty and inequality in the UK as a whole. It really beggars belief and I am lost for words and angry at how the Conservatives are getting away with murder, time and time again. David Mundell missed voting for the Internal Market Bill a couple of weeks ago too as he was visiting his constituents, a very calculated decision as he is now beginning to feel the heat generated by his party’s decision to lower food import standards in his beloved Union after Brexit.
Earlier this year, Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford led a successful campaign that allowed hungry children to have access to free meals during the summer holidays, drawing upon the own troubles that his mother went through when he was a child. A motion had been brought back to the Commons to have the same initiative extended for the upcoming October half-term break and the Christmas holidays in order to help families that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and were already struggling in the battle against poverty. However, the motion was defeated by the government’s majority with prime minister Boris Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak, health secretary Matt Hancock and former PM Theresa May amongst the 320 Tories who voted it down. Even Nigel Farage, who I have no respect for due to his role in breaking up the Union! Twitted that “If the government can subsidise Eat Out to Help Out, not being seen to give poor kids lunch in the school holidays looks mean and is wrong”. For once I agree with him no matter what his politics or ideology is, we cannot as a G7 nation, starve our children to death. It’s morally irreprehensible and cruel in this day and age.
Only five Conservatives rebelled against the Government to vote for feeding more than 1.4 million children during school breaks until Easter next year in England. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been barred for life from a pub in his constituency over his decision to vote against providing free meals to eligible school children during the half-term holidays.
Can I appeal to compassionate Peebleans to ban MP David Mundell for life from all café’s, restaurants and pubs in the area? Or are we still okay to be part of this shameful act to starve English children because it does not affect our children up here in Scotland? Fingers crossed and really hoping that the Tories have a change of heart!
Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 30th October 2020.