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Pulling together in the midst of the pandemic

Elaine Smith MSP

THE world has changed dramatically in 2020 with the highly infectious Coronavirus pandemic causing illness and sadly, death, for many people around the globe as well as major economic and social problems. 

Developing countries, where much of Missio Scotland’s work is carried out, are already suffering from poverty and inequality and this pandemic will undoubtedly make that much worse. 

As our Churches are having to follow very strict attendance rules the usual financial support will no doubt have diminished. I certainly hope that those who were able to contribute to the Covid-19 Emergency Fund announced by Pope Francis to help assist vulnerable mission communities managed to do so.

Home discomforts

Here at home in Scotland, lockdown has affected us all in many different ways. Poverty has increased dramatically and our Churches and selfless volunteers have to be commended for making available vital assistance and food supplies to those in need. 

The fear of the virus has made people, particularly the elderly, vulnerable and those with certain illnesses, wary of leaving home at all which is causing them to miss out on social activities and spiritual support.  Whilst many of our churches have helpfully offered online services it is not always accessible to elderly people. In addition, social isolation is becoming a growing issue as Church activities, social care clubs and day centres have not yet opened.

The future economic situation also looks grim. Many workers are either furloughed—with the threat of financial support for this reducing soon—or working from home but many others have lost their jobs. We are now in an unprecedented recession, which will bring severe unemployment and will impact most on our young people if political action is not taken to help them. 

As we head towards a Scottish Parliament election is it vitally important that plans are set in place now to mitigate where possible this ongoing disaster as much as possible and in particular in the areas of the future for our young people and the care of our elderly; who have been badly let down recently.

Food poverty

At this time of crisis, the availability of food, which many of us have previously taken for granted, has been shown to be a vital issue. It certainly has sharpened our thoughts to the many suffering food poverty in the developing countries where Missio Scotland makes a huge difference.  

According to our international obligations we all have a right to food. Efforts are being made to support people in the developing world by various organisations, but it is increasingly apparent that many people in our rich country are also going hungry. We should be able to focus our aid to help feed those in impoverished countries, without having to also feed our friends, neighbours and family through charitable donations and foodbanks. 

To help address this, I have lodged a proposal for a parliamentary bill to enshrine the right to food, as recognised by the United Nations, into law in Scotland. The bill, entitled ‘Right to Food (Scotland) Bill,' also seeks to establish an independent statutory body to oversee food policy to ensure no one goes hungry in Scotland. The passage of this bill would mean that it would be the state’s responsibility to ensure that food is available, accessible and adequate for everyone. The consultation process has been completed on this and hope that I can count on cross-party support to make this happen.

Signs of positivity

Although this is definitely the most worrying, frightening and unprecedented time that I can ever recall, we have also had many positive elements to this situation which should be recognised and celebrated. Individuals and communities have pulled together by offering support and giving their time and generosity to others in need. We have collectively supported our NHS and key workers who did not always previously get the recognition they deserve and young families have been able to enjoy much more time together as a family unit than ever before.

There are so many issues that need addressed going forward and I certainly hope that as I stand down as an MSP there will be new committed and energised candidates with lived experience of the issues, inequalities and problems in our communities who will put the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable and the voiceless at the forefront of their actions and political activities. This pandemic has starkly shown just how much we need our family and friends, community and church but also how much we need government that prioritises health and well-being, reducing inequality and redistributing wealth.

Elaine Smith MSP is a Patron of Missio Scotland



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