Dignity at a time like this

Cooking at home
Photo by Kevin McCutcheon

As more information has emerged about how coronavirus (COVID-19) will affect day-to-day lives, many of us have felt nervous, scared and confused about how we and our families will cope with the restrictions on our movement and potential health problems that will come.  

For many, this has led to stockpiling essential goods, and the rush to clear supermarket shelves has left many people wondering if they will have enough. 

But for people who already struggle to afford food each week, or who have long been forced to compromise the amount, variety and quality of food they eat, this experience of food insecurity is well known. For those in low-paid or insecure work, the option to bulk buy is far from reach. Unless significant steps are taken to ensure workers are protected from the worst of the economic crisis that is unfolding, many more people will experience food insecurity for the first time.

Communities offering their support

During this period of uncertainty, we have also seen an extraordinary outpouring of offers to support – from people in communities throughout Scotland wanting to ensure those who are most vulnerable in their local areas have the support they need. 

We welcome the desire to support and applaud those in the community food sector who are working tirelessly to adapt their existing service to the new context. There is a lot that communities can do to support people at this difficult time – keeping in contact by phone, email, Facebook and video chat, making sure people are accessing accurate information and advice – but their role in sharing food has suddenly changed.

We encourage everyone to follow the latest government guidance on when to #stayathome.

There is also a risk that in this rush to develop new forms of food provision we will forget an important lesson – the design and delivery of a response to food insecurity can either enhance or undermine a person’s sense of dignity and overall wellbeing. With proposed emergency measures lasting weeks and perhaps months, it is essential that the medium to long-term effect of food programmes are considered now. 

The Dignity Principles were established in 2016 as the guiding framework for responses to food insecurity in Scotland. They reflect the efforts of a cross-sectoral independent working group on food poverty and provide an important foundation for any initiative seeking to support those experiencing food insecurity. 

There has never been a time when the Dignity Principles were more needed. 

Building dignity into responses to food insecurity

The Dignity Project has been working to understand what the Dignity Principles mean for community food provision. We have worked closely with people with experience of food insecurity, our partners at the Poverty Truth Community and a growing network of community food initiatives throughout Scotland to share learning, tools and resources that support best practice.  

We know that being food insecure is inherently undignified. The details of what undermines and enhances dignity differs for each person, but as we consider repurposing or developing new models of community food work, the principles remain the same.

Dignity means feeling…

  • a sense of control
  • able to take part in community life
  • nourished and supported
  • involved in decision-making
  • valued and able to contribute

Over the next week, we will be sharing adapted guidance to using these principles on Nourish Scotland’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

This series aims to support community food providers to design and deliver services that will enhance dignity and overall wellbeing. It will include guidance for existing providers and those who have recently offered to help. We will be updating these suggestions as we and our network learn more about practices that are promoting dignity at this extraordinary time. 

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**We will soon be launching a new Dignity in Practice Volunteering Toolkit. This set of resources and activities supports community food initiatives to build capacity within their volunteers to ensure dignity is embedded throughout their work (the launch has been postponed as we focus on supporting our network during this exceptional time).**