You can’t budget your way out of poverty
The truth is, though, people are already pushing themselves to the limit, and it still isn’t enough. Almost 2/3 of those in poverty in Scotland are from working households, with many working multiple jobs to make ends meet or struggling to keep afloat in an exploitative gig economy. And more of us are facing this struggle – along with the cost of living crisis, we’re seeing more and more people who haven’t previously experienced poverty struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
Poverty is exhausting.
Malnutrition isn’t just an issue of access to food or cooking skills – it's about a vicious cycle of hunger, poor mental health and lack of energy. Poverty and hunger exhaust us – we use up so much energy just trying to keep our heads above water. And when you’re tired and miserable, it’s that much harder to take care of yourself. When you’re stressed about money, exhausted from work and not sure how much longer you can afford power, how can you convince yourself to spend more money and spend hours in the kitchen when you could just eat a packet of crisps, or nothing at all?
So if we’ve reached the limit of belt-tightening and budgeting, and things are still looking dire, how do we make things better?
At Cyrenians, we can’t put more money in people’s pockets. We can’t stop people charging more for housing and power. But we can still make a difference.
My colleagues in our Depot and the Community Pantries are meeting the immediate need, getting food on the table in an accessible and affordable way. And at the Cook School, we continue to help people develop strategies to make the most of what they can afford. We make sure that everyone who comes to the cook school leaves having eaten well, and knowing that they’re not alone.
Poverty is isolating, and isolation makes it so much harder to deal with poverty. We offer food, and we offer skills, but when we’re standing over a stove, moving crates of cabbages or sharing a hot meal, we’re also offering community. It’s a space where people can build trust and joy – laughing, cooking, eating, and being part of a community as an active participant.
So many of the people we meet come to us exhausted, guarded and giving up. With food in their bellies and the confidence and friendships they build with us, we see them transform – people learn to love cooking again, and start to build hope for the future. When they know there’s a day every week where they’ll be among friends, where they’ll eat well, and where they’ll be doing something meaningful, it makes it so much more possible to get through the week.
When you’re struggling to get food on the table, everything else starts to slip – your confidence, your social life, your sense of purpose. Bills pile up and debts grow and you feel alone with it all. When we get people around the table, sharing food and sharing their lives, we start to be able to tackle these issues as a community. Through food, we’re creating a space where people can talk about what they’re struggling with, and find support – from people coming in to cook and eat, we’ve been able to help them solve rent disputes, manage bills, access mental health support and more, all over the kitchen table.
Many of the people referred to our cooking and budgeting classes are in precarious tenancies and at high risk of homelessness. A year after finishing the course, 80% of those people are still in their homes, and that’s not just about budgeting and savvy shopping – because they know who to turn to, our students haven’t had to face the struggles of precarious living alone.
For us, food is the FIRST step. But it isn’t the last. We don’t want to feed you and forget you. When you sit down and eat with us, it’s the start of a journey. You’re part of our community, and we’re with you to help you access whatever support you need to get to a better future.