This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

How can a nation call itself civilised when children go hungry in its towns and cities? How can we sleep at night? How do we face ourselves in the mirror each morning?

Scotland, along with the three other nations across these broken islands, has now reached unparalleled levels of child hunger. Between April and September this year, the Trussell Trust network of food banks distributed 130,000 emergency parcels. Some 42,000 food parcels were specifically for children. The trust says this represents “record levels of need”.

The figures are dreadful to contemplate, yet they reveal only a partial picture of hunger in Scotland. The Trussell Trust may be the biggest food bank provider, but there are many more. The Trust itself says that the number of parcels handed out by other food banks “is not captured” in their data. 

Families with children are “significantly over-represented among those who had to turn to food banks in Scotland”. Six in ten of all food parcels went to families with children. As a citizen of this country, I burn with shame just writing that sentence.

Scotland did see a smaller increase in the number of parcels provided for families with children compared to the other UK nations. We went up 5%, Northern Ireland 23%, Wales 15%, and England 13%. Compared to five years ago, the rise is 46% for Scotland, 188% for Northern Ireland, 140% England, and 82% Wales. 

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For pity’s sake, don’t take that as a silver lining. Our poorest children simply suffer in smaller numbers than elsewhere in Britain, but many still suffer. 

The Trussell Trust rightly points out that the Scottish Child Payment – an additional benefit unavailable elsewhere in the UK – has been a mitigating factor. For that the Scottish Government deserves credit. However, it cannot – and must not – rest on such scant laurels.

The Herald: The number of food parcels delivered to Scottish children in poverty has increased by 46% since five years agoThe number of food parcels delivered to Scottish children in poverty has increased by 46% since five years ago (Image: Newsquest)
The Child Payment, the Trust adds, “does not go far enough”. If the Scottish Government is to meet its child poverty targets then the payment must increase. Even then, those targets are grindingly depressing: fewer than 10% of children in relative poverty by 2030, and 5% in “persistent poverty”.

When I was born in 1970, there was an effective policy of full employment in Britain. Ambitious social measures are possible. Picture for a moment the moral courage, ambition, and empathy, of any political party that would today adopt the policy of eliminating food banks within one parliamentary term. I, personally, would crawl over broken glass to vote for such a party.

Until the arrival of the Tory Party and its austerity policies, there were effectively no food banks in Britain. The sins of the last decade need erased.

Evidently, the Scottish Government doesn’t have the full powers available to fight hunger alone. Though it has more powers at its disposal than it uses. That’s one solution: the Scottish Government doing more than it does to alleviate the suffering of children.

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Irresistible pressure, however, must be put on Westminster to address this scandalous cruelty. The buck stops in London. Why, in the name of simple humanity, does the Scottish Government not call on all political parties in Holyrood to unite in demanding that London acts now? If the Scottish Tories refused to cooperate then let them be shamed across the land for their meanness and cruelty.

Why, indeed, could all three of the UK’s devolved assemblies not unite together to say enough is enough; to demand that Westminster either fulfils its moral responsibilities and moves to end the disgrace of children going hungry, or else hand over every necessary available power to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast so that we can stop this horror ourselves.