Today’s Programme for Government (PfG) offers welcome measures to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis on food insecurity. It also promises further action for more nature friendly farming, forestry and fishing. Food is scattered in other portfolios too, and it is clear that the system-focused Good Food Nation agenda will take longer to establish itself in the Government’s thinking.
Food insecurity and right to food
We know lack of money is the key driver of food insecurity. The big levers for tackling the current crisis lie with UK Government, but the Scottish Government re-commits to a cash-based approach and ending the need for food banks. While food insecurity is only tangentially mentioned, and the consultation on the Human Rights Bill has been pushed into 2023, the human rights based approach is evident throughout this PfG.
There is a clear focus on maximising cash in people’s pockets. This is through a combination of expanded social security and family payments, more money advice, and reduction of costs such as transport, rents and council tax. A commitment to Fair Work remains, although the pay offer for public sector and care staff are unlikely to keep pace with the Real Living Wage which is due to increase on 22nd September.
While a number of measures are designed for low income households, there is also clear evidence of a more universal approach. This includes an expansion of universal free school meals up to Primary 7 and removing the income threshold for accessing Best Start Foods (which provides additional cash to families to purchase good food).
Climate and nature
The Government is following through on its commitment to action on nature and climate, despite many pressures.
There’s a welcome proposal to cap or taper the large annual payments going to some farmers under the current subsidy regime. Unless Government bends the spend in its CAP replacement policy, farming won’t deliver what it could for climate and nature.
It’s also good to see a commitment to greater community engagement and improved biodiversity in the Forestry Grant Scheme as both farmers and communities have been critical of farmland being lost to sitka plantations.
Lack of support for organic farming is an oversight, given this was a commitment in the Bute House Agreement. There’s no better way to deliver for climate and nature while producing healthy food.
The new commitment to developing a Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture is notable. The salmon farms operating off the coast of Scotland have long been a source of pollution and environmental degradation, as well as animal welfare concerns. The review of regulation, and working in tandem with local authorities and SEPA, are certainly timely.
The consultation on fisheries management is welcome, but we need bolder action on conservation, including the restoration of the 3-mile limit. The health of our seas is a key issue for the Future Generations Commissioner promised in this Programme.
It’s good to see the Government re-emphasising the importance of sustainability in public procurement. A review of the 2011 Catering for Change guidelines will help to join the dots in the food system. Lets hope this will include a commitment to public procurement of organic food.
This PfG does not offer many links between food and health. The one big step forward is Government commitment to bringing forward a bill restricting the promotion of unhealthy foods (currently under consultation). This is intended to make it easier for people to eat less processed food and also spend less. We need to be bolder in our public health policy and make it easier for people to eat and enjoy more of the food that keeps them well, not just make it harder to eat the other stuff.
The PfG promises new licensing arrangements to encourage local processing of Scottish sea fish, increasing the economic benefit from those fishing the Scottish fish quota. There is, however, a distinct lack of follow-up from the ‘Local food for everyone’ consultation.
Good Food Nation?
It is surprising that the headline ‘food news’ of the last year – the Good Food Nation Act – is not mentioned in the PfG, nor is the Food Commission that the Government is now required to set up. The food portfolio remains scattered between different departments, reinforcing the need for a systems-focused Commission and food plans.