The human cost of a recession is that families don’t have enough money to sufficiently provide healthy and nutritious food

This week, I was asked by a friend if I could provide details of food banks for her to contact to help some families she supports. The children are hungry, she said. I go to help them get ready for school and know they are going out the door hungry, having gone to bed hungry.  

ParentLine Scotland came up trumps and hopefully, the information they provide will help. As well as giving callers emotional and practical support, the helpline can also signpost people concerned about a child - for any reason - to useful organisations.

Such are the ironies of a stalled economy, food banks appear to be one sector which is booming. Douglas Alexander MP advised of three he knew that churches were setting up in his constituency when we met the other week. We were both horrified at what this suggested about the level of need, not just in Paisley but all across Scotland.

Such anecdotal evidence is backed up by the publication of research by Save the Children which shows that a quarter of parents on low incomes regularly go without meals because they cannot afford to eat. The charity's research, It Shouldn't Happen Here, also found that one in seven of Scotland's poorest children don't get enough to eat, with parents revealing that one in six children from struggling families have gone to bed hungry.

Let's just pause and consider what all this tells us. Scotland is a wealthy country, part of one of the wealthiest states in the world. We are not Malawi, we are not El Salvador, we are not Bangladesh. But everyday, there are children and adults who do not have enough to eat, because they do not have enough money to provide sufficient healthy and nutritious food for their families. This is the human cost of recession. This is the shocking toll our children are bearing because of our financial folly. This is the real impact of austerity measures. It's not just statistics, it's not just graphs and forecasts, it's not just debate among economists and politicians about how to get our economy growing again.

Freeze pay - not just over one year but several; allow jobs in all sectors to disappear and for employees to be forced into part-time arrangements; ignore that the cost of childcare is rising rapidly while simultaneously, removing the safety net provided by tax credits; applaud the supposed success story of energy companies generating record profits due to squeezing more, year on year, out of customers for essential heating and lighting; and shrug collective shoulders at the cost of fuel continuing to rise, thereby driving up the price of everything. If you are in government and behave thus, then this is the result.

Our UK government is not only indifferent to the needs of the most vulnerable and fragile families and children, it is actively conniving in policy measures which are creating and reinforcing poverty. Lest we forget, this government has introduced a toxic brew of tax and welfare changes taking up to 15% out of the pockets of low to middle income earning families. And there is more to come - not just for families who exist solely on benefits, but for those whose poverty pay necessitates income top ups through mechanisms like housing benefit. At the same time, if the UK Government gives Scotland less to spend, services will be cut. And if education and social work are local authorities’ two biggest spending departments, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that children might bear the brunt. 

The consequences of tens of thousands of Scottish children growing up hungry are obvious -their physical well-being will suffer.  But Save the Children's research also lays bare the impact on children's mental and emotional well-being. Over half the children surveyed on low incomes worry - despite their parents' best efforts to conceal the truth - about their family not having enough money to live on. The same percentage knows that their family's money worries are making their parents unhappy. What that means is children constantly feeling butterflies in their tummies and tip-toeing around their parents to avoid getting snapped at. It means children never complaining, fretting and keeping their troubles to themselves, so as not to burden their parents. It means never escaping a feeling of anxiety that gnaws at and diminishes their childhoods.  

It is a sad indictment of 21st Century Scotland, a country which sends thousands of children to bed hungry every night, a country which relies on the charity of individuals and communities to feed families, a country where economically, things are going to get worse before they get better.  And the question is - what have our children done to deserve any of it?