The presence of a foodbank in the middle of Kirkwall is perhaps the most tangible evidence of the damage the austerity agenda driven by the Lib Dem/Tory Coalition government has done to the people of Orkney.
The Tory obsession with austerity is a political choice, not a necessity, and the punitive benefit sanctions regime is one of the worst policies to ever come out of Westminster.
On my most recent visit to Orkney, towards the end of May, I heard some shocking statistics about the Orkney Foodbank.
The facility, run by the Trussell Trust, was opened by Liam McArthur on 15th November 2013. Just two years later, on Friday 6th November 2015, the Orkney Foodbank reached a milestone when its total number of clients supported hit 1000 – made up of 669 adults and 331 children. During 2016-17 alone, 404 vouchers were redeemed at Orkney Foodbank, helping 513 adults and 238 children.
Low income and benefit delays are the two main reasons for people having to use the foodbank, and that points the finger directly at the austerity agenda that the Lib Dems helped the Tories to put in place.
And demand continues at the Orkney Foodbank. In April 2017 a total of 634kg of items were donated, while 735kg was issued to clients, with 42 adults and 24 children helped.
As can be seen from the figures, Orkney Foodbank distributed a greater quantity of items in April this year than were donated, which obviously reduces its stock levels. There is clearly still a great need in Orkney for the services the Foodbank provides, and that is a sad indictment of the society created by the LibDem/Tory Coalition that Alistair Carmichael helped prop up, and the recent Brexit-triggering Tory government.
Latest figures indicate that 2000 people in Orkney live below the poverty line – a shocking state of affairs in what on the face of it is a very prosperous community, but then poverty is often not particularly visible. To compound this issue, Orkney sits top of Scotland’s fuel poverty league table – 63% of all households and 85% of pensioner households are fuel poor according to the latest Scottish House Condition Survey. This adds further hardship to the most vulnerable folk in the islands, where some are forced to make the grim choice between ‘heating’ and ‘eating’.
The SNP has been opposing austerity at its source in Westminster over the past two years, and MPs have most recently been fighting the Tories’ draconian two-child tax credit cap, the abhorrent Rape Clause, and the sanctions regime that has forced so many into hunger.
Miriam Brett, who has already worked at the heart of policy development at Westminster, has pledged during her campaigning in Orkney to fight to end the harmful agenda that hurts people and businesses. I believe that Miriam will be a brilliant addition to an effective, strong opposition to an increasingly right-wing Tory government. Please consider giving Miriam your vote on Thursday. It really does feel like time for change.
This is a fortnightly column by local SNP MSP Maree Todd