Today is a day of mourning. Many tears will be shed, the sadness will be tangible and pain very deep and real. In homes across the country, families will grieve together and, in fact, I believe their expressions of sorrow should not be limited only to them and minimised only to a day but should ricochet out to every one of us until a solution to this suffering is unearthed. I refer, of course, not to the Queen’s funeral but to the many Scots who will be devastated when their access to frontline services and food for their families is today prevented.
Vital hospital appointments have been postponed, cremations have been cancelled, the Bank of England has pushed back a crucial interest rate decision by a week and our politicians have the day off. However, I consider the most dangerous decision to have been the one made by many foodbanks across Scotland to close their doors. For an increasing number of people, their lives are not stricken by the cost-of living but the cost-of-surviving and I believe Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is not a reason to close services to people experiencing poverty.
Every 13 seconds, a food parcel is distributed in Scotland and thousands of people each day are supported by them. Last week, at Dundee and Angus foodbank I saw many people, among them a Ukrainian refugee who was incredibly grateful for food provided for herself and her children as well as two female volunteers comforting an NHS nurse who arrived off the back of a 12-hour nightshift in floods of tears shortly after dropping her son at school. What had upset her was when he asked before getting out the car what was for dinner later.
Foodbanks are the last port of call for many and not being able to access them at a historical juncture when most of us are facing the biggest set of economic challenges in living memory will, frankly, be catastrophic for some. While many will close, many others will open including Aberdeenshire South in Banchory, which is the closest to Balmoral Castle where Queen Elizabeth died just 11 days ago. A representative from Aberdeenshire South told Third Force News: “We will be open. People are hungry, whether the Queen has died or not.”
By contrast, I believe poverty should be a cause of national mourning and I suspect Queen Elizabeth herself would feel ill-at-ease with her death being used as an incentive for the hardship of others. Following the financial collapse and subsequent recession in 2008, she gave her traditional Christmas address, saying: “I hope that, like me, you will be comforted by the example of Jesus of Nazareth who… makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than receiving, more in serving than in being served.”
It is precisely because of this homeless Jewish peasant who so selflessly and sacrificially gave his life for others and whom I am pleased to call my saviour that I felt challenged to help people and supported other pioneers across Scotland to do likewise. Jesus himself declared that when we befriend, clothe, feed and water those least among us who bear hardship the most and those last among us who experience poverty the first, it is as if we had done it for him. This is the same King to whom the Queen pledged her allegiance.
Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother – Queen Victoria – is rumoured to have once told a chaplain she wished that Jesus would return to earth in her lifetime. When he enquired as to why, she told him: “I should so love to lay my crown at his feet.” The best way to honour Queen Elizabeth today is to serve those whom her saviour loved the most.