Nearly 600,000 food parcels handed out in Scotland in last 18 months

New figures released today by A Menu for Change and the Independent Food Aid Network reveal the full scale of food bank use in Scotland.

596,472 emergency food parcels were handed out between April 2018 and September 2019. This equates to more than 1,000 food parcels on average every day.

In March 2019, A Menu for Change and the Independent Food Aid Network published for the first time the total number of food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust and independent food banks, which make up 42 percent of the food bank picture in Scotland.

Between April 2018 and September 2019, 278,258 emergency food parcels were distributed by 91 of the 101 independent food banks operating in Scotland for which data was available. The Trussell Trust reported a further 318,214 parcels were distributed by its network of 135 venues during the most recent period.

Combining these totals means that at least 596,472 food parcels were handed out in the 18 months up to September 2019, which equates to more than 1,000 every day.

In the last 18 months, a total of 586,723 parcels were distributed by food banks included in our previous research and Trussell Trust food banks.

This represents a 22 percent rise compared to the total of 480,583 parcels given out during the previous 18 months recorded.

Food bank figures represent only the tip of the iceberg of those experiencing food insecurity with people often skipping meals or going without food instead of using a food bank. The new figures also do not account for other types of emergency food aid provision.

A Menu for Change – the partnership between Oxfam Scotland, Nourish Scotland, the Poverty Alliance and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland – and the Independent Food Aid Network say the UK government must ensure people have sustainable and secure incomes to stop them being pushed into food insecurity.

Last year, research by A Menu for Change revealed how inadequate and insecure incomes from social security and work are causing people to become food insecure.

Now, A Menu for Change and the Independent Food Aid Network are demanding the new UK government increases the National Living Wage to the Real Living Wage, restores the value of key benefits, and uprates all benefits with inflation. They also want the income families receive to be improved by removing the two-child limit and benefit cap, zero-hours contracts banned to improve job security and better support for people who experience income shocks through life events like illness and bereavement.

Scottish ministers must also use their powers to increase funding to the Scottish Welfare Fund which has faced a real-terms cut since 2013, ensuring local authorities are fully able to support people at crisis point.

The Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank operates two venues where people can access emergency food supplies.

Mary McGinley, from Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank, said: “It is hard to believe that in modern day Scotland, more and more people are being forced to rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. But until we see a significant change in direction, inadequate and insecure incomes make this continued rise in food parcels sadly predictable.

“Today’s figures shine a light on the essential role independent food banks play in offering emergency help to those who are no longer being supported by the social security safety net which isn’t strong enough to provide protection to those who need it.

“While it is heartening that people are willing to donate to and volunteer at food banks, there is a real need for change. There should not be a system which is driving this year-on-year increase in demand. It is not right that people should need to go to a food bank to put a meal on the table.

“Politicians must address the underlying causes of rising food bank use rather than relying on charitable organisations and goodwill to respond to food poverty.”

Margaret MacLachlan, Project Manager, A Menu for Change said: “As we start a new decade, the relentless pressures forcing people to need emergency food aid continues. These figures are deeply troubling and reveal a grim picture of rising levels of food insecurity in Scotland.

“A weakened social security system, low pay and insecure work are tightening the grip of poverty and forcing people to crisis point. The long-term solution to food insecurity is not food banks, it is ensuring people have secure and reliable incomes. In 2020, we must do more to ensure we can consign food banks to the history books.

“Today’s statistics are shocking, but experts also warn that data on food parcel distribution only provides a partial picture of the number of Scots struggling to put food on the table with many choosing to skip meals rather than use a food bank. Recent Scottish Government statistics revealed nearly one in 10 people in Scotland were worried about running out of food in 2018.

“The new UK Government must act urgently to fix Universal Credit and uprate working-age benefits, but Scottish Ministers can and should act too by increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund, which has faced a real-terms cut in its budget since 2013. No one in rich Scotland should run out of money to buy food and political leaders must act now to prevent more people being dragged into poverty.”

Number of Scots forced to apply for Crisis Grants to buy food continues to rise

Campaigners are calling for an increase to the Scottish Welfare Fund budget after new statistics released today show a rising numbers of Scots are accessing emergency cash to help pay for food.

50,980 applications for Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grants were made between April and June 2019, representing a 12 percent increase compared to the same quarter last year.

Most of the Crisis Grant expenditure related to applicants needing to buy food – 60 percent of all payments – which is a 29 percent increase from the same quarter last year.

There were 32,995 Crisis Grants awarded, an 11 percent increase on last year.

Half of the reasons for applications in the last quarter were because of benefit or income emergencies.

Despite increasing numbers of Crisis Grants being awarded, the budget to administer the Scottish Welfare Fund has been the same since it was first introduced in 2013, representing a real-terms cut.

A Menu for Change – a partnership between Oxfam, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group and Nourish – says that the Scottish Welfare Fund budget must be increased to ensure that people at crisis point are able to get the emergency help they need.

However, it says the key drivers of food insecurity – inadequate and insecure wages and social security – need resolved to prevent people being forced to turn to the Scottish Welfare Fund for emergency cash.

Without secure and reliable incomes, the Scottish Welfare Fund is a final lifeline for people who do not have enough money to buy food.

A recent report from A Menu for Change based on interviews with Scots experiencing food insecurity found that while half of those interviewed over time had accessed a Crisis Grant Fund, many had not heard of it.

Research by A Menu for Change published earlier this year showed that some councils in Scotland were avoiding publicising the Scottish Welfare Fund due to fears they would be unable to meet the subsequent demand.

The fund consists of a programme and administration budget. Scottish ministers have previously defended the SWF remaining frozen because the programme budget is underspent.

However, in 2018-19, for the first time, 100 percent of the available budget was spent by local authorities, with thirteen local authorities spending more than the available budget.

Margaret MacLachlan, A Menu for Change Project Manager, said:

“It is unacceptable in modern day Scotland that increasing numbers of people are being forced to rely on emergency cash to put food on the table because wages and social security are inadequate.

“Low wages, zero hours contracts and long delays in accessing key benefits are preventing people from building resilience to sudden changes in income, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

“The Scottish Welfare Fund is a vital lifeline, ensuring in many cases, those who have run out of money do not run out of food. For it to be at its most effective, it needs to be enough to reach everyone who needs it.

“However, the Fund is not in itself a long-term solution to tackling the increasing levels of food insecurity in Scotland. The Scottish and UK governments must do more to prevent people in Scotland being dragged to crisis point. Paying a Real Living Wage, banning exploitative zero-hours contracts and scrapping the five-week delay for Universal Credit are needed to ensure people who are struggling to keep their head above water are not dragged under by shocks to their income.

“No one in Scotland should be worrying about whether they will have enough food to eat. Strengthening the Scottish Welfare Fund is essential, but long-term solutions must be put in place to ensure the numbers of people seeking emergency cash in Scotland to buy food are going down, not up.”

Contact: Alice McNaugher, on 07880785159 / amcnaugher1@Oxfam.org.uk

ENDS

Notes:

The fight against food insecurity in Scotland

By Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland and a Director of A Menu for Change.

Today, on World Food Day, I would normally highlight the suffering of people being denied food because of drought, flood, or conflict. Globally, hunger has risen for three years in a row.

But this isn’t only a far-away problem. There are people across Scotland who are, right now, worrying about how they will afford food. Some will even have no money to buy it at all.

Scotland is not suffering from a food shortage, so why are so many people food insecure?

A Menu for Change – a partnership in Scotland between Oxfam, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group and Nourish – was set up to help tackle this problem.

Our latest research is based on the experiences of those facing food insecurity and we tracked their journeys in and out of income crises over time to understand how to prevent them.

The stories we heard should be unthinkable in modern Scotland, yet they are happening all too frequently: parents going without meals so their children can eat, and others unable to afford food for days at a time. We heard how people feel a sense of shame at having to ask for help, with some preferring to go without food as a result.

In recent years, foodbanks have become an all too common feature of our communities because people want to help. They deserve enormous thanks. Yet food aid tackles the symptom, not the cause. If we are to stop the scandal of food insecurity, people need adequate and reliable access to cash so they can buy the food they need.

The precarious nature of the labour market is a key barrier. Alongside low pay, we heard how too often zero-hours contracts and unstable shift work mean people do not know when their next wage is coming or how much it will be.

Compounding the stress this creates is the erosion of our social safety net. We rightly expect the social security system to provide a financial buffer when we face a personal crisis. Yet, many people we spoke to had to turn to food aid because they were not receiving the money they need due to restrictions within Universal Credit, or challenges accessing crisis support from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

These were people like Mandy Galloway, a mother of four from Fife. She suddenly had to start covering almost all her private rental costs after being affected by the benefits cap. She told us she was left with about £20 to pay for bills and food.

Too ashamed to go to a food bank, Mandy struggled through.

Inspired by her experience, she and two other volunteers were supported by A Menu for Change to start a food cooperative called It’s Your Choice. Customers join by paying a £5 annual fee which gives them ‘points’ towards weekly purchases. It will not prevent people facing income crises, but it does help to reduce food bills and increase choice.

Mandy’s story illustrates the resilience shown by those facing food insecurity and underlines the need for the right advice and support, given with dignity and respect, so they do not struggle alone.

Ending the need for foodbanks will require action from government, employers and beyond. We know that short-term food aid is not the final answer. We must stop people in Scotland being dragged into income crisis.

If we do so, we can ensure that on future World Food Days, the scandal of people worrying about going hungry, in Scotland at least, is a thing of the past.

This opinion piece was first published in The Herald newspaper on Wednesday 16 October 2019.

The System Has Been Found Wanting

Read our new report, Found Wanting, here.

If Scotland doesn’t have a shortage of food, why do so many worry about going hungry?

The answer from Menu for Change’s research is simple: low and irregular wages, combined with a social security system that too often fails to provide even a basic safety net. These are what push people into food insecurity, where they don’t know if they will be able to afford their next meal.

Our new report out today is based on the experiences of those we’ve spoken to directly, whose journeys in and out of food insecurity we’ve followed over time.

The situations featured should be unthinkable in modern Scotland, yet they are happening all too frequently.

People going for days without eating. Having to choose between paying for food or rent. Parents not eating so their children can.

And beneath all of this, people’s sense of shame at having to ask for help and the deep stress and worry created by just not having the money they need to buy food.

Foodbanks aren’t the long-term answer. They’re the symptom. If we are to stop the scandal of hunger in Scotland, people need cash so they can buy the food they need, rather than rely on emergency aid.

Yet too often zero-hours contracts and the ‘gig economy’ mean people too often don’t know when their pay cheque is coming or how much it will be. It stops people from being able to plan and impacts their mental health.

We expect the benefits system to function as a financial cushion when people lose a job, become ill, suffer bereavement or need to care for a loved one.

Yet, often the people we spoke to were turning to food banks because they weren’t getting the benefits they should, or there were delays in paying Universal Credit.

Amid these struggles what shines through is incredible resilience, and how big a difference the right advice and support, when given with dignity and respect, can make.

We must build on that resilience and listen to what people tell us works to increase security and ensure they have the money they need for food.

Ending the need for foodbanks will require action from every level of government, those delivering public services, employers, and charities. By acting together, we can end the need for anyone in Scotland to worry about how they will put their next meal on the table.

John Dickie is Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and board member of A Menu for Change.

More people in Scotland worried about running out of food

New figures show that more people living in Scotland have reported being worried about running out of food in the past year, and campaigners say it reinforces the need for stronger action to stop people needing to turn to emergency food aid.

The Scottish Government’s annual Health Survey reports an increase to nine per cent of people in Scotland facing food insecurity in the last year, compared to eight percent in the previous year.Low pay, insecure work and issues with social security all contribute to food insecurity.

A Menu for Change – a partnership project involving the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Nourish Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and the Poverty Alliance – says it is completely unacceptable for so many people to be facing food insecurity because of low income.

The project has previously welcomed plans to bolster social security through a new Scottish Child Payment as this will help to prevent food insecurity for many families by topping up their incomes by ten pounds per week per child.

However, the Scottish Government’s annual Health Survey also shows 21 per cent of adults under 65 living alone are worried about running out of food due to a lack of money or resources. These single-person households will not be covered by the Scottish Child Payment.

A Menu for Change is, therefore, calling for an increase in the Scottish Welfare Fund to better help all those who fall into crisis. The Fund’s budget has remained the same since its introduction in 2013, representing a real-terms cut.

Between 2018-19, 43 percent of all Crisis Grants awarded – 107,855 grants – were for people running out of food. Over half of all Crisis Grant recipients since the Scottish Welfare Fund was introduced are single-person households.

A previous report by A Menu for Change revealed a mixed picture of Scottish Welfare Fund delivery across Scotland and stated that its budget needed to be increased so that it can do more to reach the full number of people being pulled into crisis.
In the eighteen-month period between April 2017 and September 2018, figures collated by A Menu for Change showed that 480,583 food parcels were distributed by both Trussell Trust and independent food banks across Scotland – nearly double previously reported figures.

Margaret MacLachlan, Project Manager at A Menu for Change, said: “Right now in Scotland, too many people are being pulled into food insecurity because of low income, and if we are to make progress in stopping the need for food banks, the safety net must be strengthened for everybody.

“A weakened social security system, low pay and insecure work are forcing people to crisis point. While the Scottish Child Payment will be a welcome lifeline for families who are struggling financially across Scotland, many people turning to emergency grants live on their own and won’t be helped by this new benefit.

“The UK Government must act urgently to fix Universal Credit and uprate working-age benefits but Scottish Ministers can and should act too by also increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund, which has faced a real-terms cut in its budget since 2013, so the support is there for those who need emergency help.

“In a rich country like Scotland, one which has committed to ending hunger for everyone, no-one should be worrying about where their next meal is coming from. We can and must do better to ensure those who run out of money – whether they have a family or live on their own – can access the cash they need, so they do not run out of food.”

ENDS

Contact: Alice McNaugher, Media and Communications Officer Oxfam Scotland on +44 0141 285 8874 / 07880785159 or AMcNaugher1@oxfam.org.uk

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • A Menu for Change is a partnership project run by Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, Nourish Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and the Poverty Alliance and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It aims to tackle the causes of food insecurity by working in communities and providing practical evidence-based research.· The Scottish Health Survey can be downloaded here, and last year’s here.
  • Statistics on food bank use in Scotland taken from a report from March 2019 A Menu for Change and The Independent Food Aid Network. Download the report here.
  • Statistics on the Scottish Welfare Fund are taken from the annual Scottish Welfare Fund Statistics report from the Scottish Government:
    • Between the fund’s introduction in 2013 and March 2019, 133,970 single person households received Crisis Grants;
    • Household Type (Table 62) and Reason for Award (Table 48) Download the report here.

A Menu for Change responds to latest Scottish Welfare Fund Statistics

Commenting on today’s Scottish Welfare Fund statistics, Dr Mary Anne MacLeod, Research and Policy Officer at A Menu for Change, said:

“Councils are being forced to top up the Scottish Welfare Fund, which has been cut in real-terms since 2013, in order to meet increasing demand. More and more Scots are being pulled into crisis and a greater number of people have been forced to turn to this lifeline than ever before.

“It isn’t right that as the number of Scots needing crisis payments for food continues to soar, the fund for emergency payments hasn’t gone up in six years. The Scottish Welfare Fund provides a safety net for those who can’t put food on the table and it has to be strengthened to reflect the growing demand.

“Our research shows that for the system to be more effective, councils need more funding in order to help reach everyone who needs emergency help, as well as to refer people to longer-term support which could help prevent them reaching crisis point again.

“Funding provisions for local authorities must now reflect the growing number of people who are being pulled into crisis and need this emergency cash to stay afloat.”

ENDS

Notes:

  • Scottish Welfare Statistics out today: https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/swf
  • Key points:
    • 2018-19 allocation: £32,995,240; 2018-19 spend: £35,280,668 (Table 40)
    • 100% of this year’s SWF budget, including last year’s underspend, but excluding additional funds from local authorities, was spent by 31 March 2019 (stats bulletin page 2)
    • The most common Crisis Grant expenditure was on food, essential heating expenses and other living expenses; since 2017/18 the number of awards of food has increased by 8% (page 18)
    • Since the scheme began in April 2013, over half – 182,530 – of all awards have gone to single person households (54%), and over a fifth to single parent households (22%) (Table 62)
  • A Menu for Change is a partnership project run by Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Nourish Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and the Poverty Alliance, and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It aims to tackle the causes of food insecurity by working in communities and providing practical evidence-based research.
  • A Menu for Change’s research report into the SWF: https://menuforchange.org.uk/what-we-do/research/

Breaking down the barriers in accessing emergency cash

By David Hilber, Project Officer, A Menu for Change 

Food bank use continues to rise and nearly one in ten people in Scotland are worried about where their next meal will come from. If you find yourself in this position, you can ask for a Crisis Grant: money given out by your local council through the Scottish Welfare Fund.

The Fund is a vital and welcome safety net in Scotland for those experiencing financial crisis. It is designed to provide access to quick, non-repayable cash for those who run out of money for food and other essentials.

We have examined how it operates across Scotland by speaking to people who have applied to the Fund, and those who work for local authorities administering it.

Encouragingly, on a council-by-council basis there are numerous examples of good practice. While they are providing this help in different ways, we need to see such practice rolled out everywhere, to ensure that everybody who finds themselves needing emergency cash is supported quickly and effectively.

We discovered that many councils were unable to adhere to the statutory guidance issued by the Scottish Government, like offering in-person applications, because they lack both the staffing and the physical space. Worryingly, people who need help may not know the Fund exists. Others may not be able to reach it because they do not have access to a phone.

Our report includes recommendations designed to remove such barriers, building on the good work being done by different councils across Scotland. That means, for example, ensuring people get their grants in cash rather than restrictive vouchers, fast-tracking decision-making, and ensuring people applying for Crisis Grants are also referred to other organisations who can offer longer-term help.

For this to be replicated by every council, the Scottish Welfare Fund needs to increase. It has been frozen since it was introduced in 2013, meaning a real-terms cut.

This Fund should be a key source of emergency support for everyone who is pulled into the position where they need rapid financial help. But there are too many hurdles in the way and, while councils must do all they can to remove them, without more funding these hurdles are likely to remain.

Read the full report here.

This opinion piece first appeared in the Herald newspaper on 20 June 2019.

‘Strengthening the Safety Net’ – New Scottish Welfare Fund report released

‘Strengthening the Safety Net’, a new report by A Menu for Change into the Scottish Welfare Fund, has been released today.

Download the report here: Menu for Change Scottish Welfare Fund 2019

The system for administering emergency payments used by people who have run out of money for food and other essentials could be improved but needs more cash, according to a new report published today.

Researchers examined practice across Scotland and found that the Scottish Welfare Fund is delivered in different ways in different parts of the country. Based on these findings, they have set out a series of recommendations on how the Fund could be run to help those facing food insecurity access payments more easily.

The report finds that some local authorities do not advertise the Scottish Welfare Fund as much as they would wish because if it operated at full demand, they would not be able to cope.

Unlike in other parts of the UK, the Scottish Welfare Fund serves as a much needed and welcome additional safety in Scotland by issuing Crisis Grant payments, but its budget has remained static since it was introduced in 2013, representing a real-terms cut.

Yet there are worrying levels of food insecurity and the number of people forced to use a food bank continues to grow. In March, research showed almost double the number of food parcels are handed out in Scotland than previously thought, with nearly half a million distributed between April 2017 and September 2018. It comes after Scottish Government data showed 8 percent of adults in Scotland are worried they will run out of food.

The Scottish Welfare Fund is administered by councils using funding from the Scottish Government and is comprised of a programme and administration budget. Many local authorities are having to top up their administration allocation with money or wider resources just to continue distributing current grants.

In the report, A Menu for Change, which is campaigning to tackle the causes of food insecurity, recommends how councils can remove barriers to get money into the pockets of people who need emergency support as quickly as possible.

Interviews with staff from local authorities across Scotland highlighted examples of good practice, but also found that most councils do not offer face-to-face applications for vulnerable clients – despite this being in national guidance – because they lack the staff resource and space.

By paying applicants in cash, better referring clients to wider support and giving decisions over the phone, researchers found that people would get the help they needed more quickly.

While A Menu for Change wants councils to do everything they can to adopt best practice immediately, today’s report recommends increasing the administration component of the Fund so that councils can reach more people and support them better through, for example, investing in more staff capacity. As a result, more people should be able to apply for the grants. Therefore, the report also calls for the programme budget to be increased to meet anticipated higher levels of uptake.

Today’s report highlights evidence given by the Scottish Government to a Scottish Parliamentary committee, stating there are no plans to increase funding levels from the existing £38 million per year (£33m programme, £5m administration), while noting the existing programme budget is under-spent3.

The recommendation comes after The Poverty and Inequality Commission recently highlighted that investment in social security is one of the biggest ways of reducing poverty4.

David Hilber, Project Officer at A Menu for Change, said:

“If you’ve run out of money, the Scottish Welfare Fund should be there to ensure you can get cash to buy food and other essentials, but our research has found barriers along the way. Too few people know that the fund exists and councils say they can’t afford to properly advertise it because of the potential scale of the demand.

“It is clear from speaking to council staff working across Scotland that they are doing their best to support those in need, and want to do more. We’ve identified a set of practical steps that local authorities can take to help get this emergency money into people’s pockets when they need it most.

“While councils across Scotland are doing great work in really trying circumstances, ultimately more cash is needed to properly resource this lifeline and to put our recommendations into place.

“These Crisis Grants could help stop a lot more people from needing to turn to emergency food aid, but there needs to be the money for councils to give out the fund properly.

“While the pressures forcing people into the position where they can’t afford food often aren’t coming from councils or the Scottish Government, this Fund should be available for immediate support.

“Those facing financial crisis in Scotland should know about the Scottish Welfare Fund and not face unnecessary difficulties in accessing the help they are entitled to. Ultimately, if more people were directed to the Fund, more people could get the cash they need before they need to turn to emergency food aid.”

Press contact: 0141 285 8874

A stranger in a strange land who has run out of money for food

As an immigrant myself, I can tell you, being an outsider isn’t always easy. No matter how long you’ve been in your new country or how welcoming the people are, there is always a nagging feeling that you don’t quite belong. There are cultural norms you’ll never truly be a part of or fully understand. And there are things back home that can never be fully replicated here.

But more than cultural differences, there are very real legal consequences of being a person from abroad. One thing that can be particularly harsh for some of us who come to live in the UK from elsewhere is the lack of access to social security.

For the last five years, I have had a note inscribed on my immigration documents: ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’. Not all immigrants have this condition, but those of us that do are typically* unable to access a long list of public funds. Essentially, most means-tested benefits (i.e. benefits that take your income into account like universal credit and housing benefit) and disability benefits are off the table.

Citizens of EEA countries will not have this condition on their immigration status if they move to the UK, but they are not automatically eligible for means-tested benefits. Most benefit claimants must have what is called a ‘right to reside’. Proving you have a right to reside when you are not a UK citizen or permanent resident can be very difficult and time-consuming, with applications and appeals sometimes going on for months. And sometimes you simply don’t have one.

So, what happens if someone with no recourse to public funds or an EEA national with no right to reside runs out of money for food? Is charity the only thing standing between them and hunger?

The short answer is no. There are things you can try if you find yourself in this situation or are helping someone who is.

Firstly, the Scottish Welfare Fund does not have a ‘right to reside’ requirement.** If you are an EEA national, but you have been told you cannot get DWP benefits because you don’t have the correct ‘right to reside’, you CAN still access the Scottish Welfare Fund for a short term cash grant.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Welfare Fund does count as ‘public funds’ so those of us with no recourse to public funds are usually unable to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund. However, social work has a duty to promote welfare in their area under section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. This means vulnerable adults who have run out of money for food can contact their local authority social work department and request help to buy food.

Similarly, families with children can request assistance under section 22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. These payments are not public funds, so someone with no recourse to public funds can request these without worrying about their immigration status. These are solely for when all other alternatives have been exhausted, but they are an option for someone who is unable to access DWP benefits or the Scottish Welfare Fund and has no other way of accessing money for food.

It can be tough being an immigrant, but it is comforting to know that while we try to make a new life in our new home, there are options if things get especially hard. No one should have to rely on charity to feed themselves and their family.

Author: David Hilber, Project Officer

* If you are not an EEA citizen but have a right to reside in the UK (e.g. you are the family member of an EEA national with a right to reside in the UK), any conditions on your immigration status (including no recourse to public funds) do not have any effect so long as that right to reside remains
** Section 6.11 of the SWF Statutory Guidance

People living on cups of tea and thin air deserve faster action on poverty

The rise in food bank numbers is already symbolic of our failing social security system. Yet the appalling scale of this unfolding human tragedy in a country as rich as Scotland is only now becoming clear.

We’ve known for some time that food bank use has been growing in Scotland, with the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of 118 food banks here, providing regular statistics on the number of food parcels it distributes. Their most recent figures show that between April 2017 and September 2018, they handed out 258,606 food parcels.

What we didn’t know, until now, is that these figures only tell half of the story. There were also at least 94 independent food banks in Scotland giving out food during the same time period, but nobody knew how many parcels they’d handed out.

That’s why A Menu for Change began working in partnership with our friends at the Independent Food Aid Network to document how many emergency food parcels were given out by independent food banks across Scotland.

The results are staggering.

Eighty-four of Scotland’s independent food banks reported that they had distributed 221,977 food parcels during that 18-month period, taking the combined known total to 480,583 – nearly half a million.

Though they provide a fuller picture of food bank use than we’ve had before, these figures still only represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of measuring the increasing level of hunger in Scotland.

Not everyone turns to a food bank in times of crisis. Through A Menu for Change, we’ve met people who often find other ways to cope. Kerry*, a mum in East Ayrshire, talked about surviving on cups of tea so she could ensure her child didn’t go to bed with an empty tummy.

This hidden hunger is much more difficult to document, but last year the Scottish Government for the first-time published statistics which revealed that eight percent of people in Scotland said they’d faced hunger. That’s nearly half a million people; almost equivalent to the entire population of Edinburgh.

Anyone who’s been to the supermarket lately knows this isn’t a problem of supply; the shelves are stuffed full of food. This is a problem of poverty.

And the thing about poverty? It isn’t inevitable. It can be fixed. But the fixes require political will and leadership.

Of course, we know that much of the power to address many of the drivers of food bank use – problems with the UK benefits system, low wages and insecure contracts – does not rest in Scotland.

But with the transfer of a raft of new social security powers to Holyrood, Scottish Ministers can do more to help people facing hardship.

The Scottish Government has pledged to top up the incomes of Scotland’s poorest families in 2022. This promise is hugely welcome because the long-term solution to tackling hunger in Scotland isn’t supplying food to those who can’t afford to buy their own, it’s raising people’s income. If we’re going to prevent people from having to turn to food banks, we need to make sure they’ve got more money in their pockets. The Government’s proposed income supplement could help do just that.

But a promise to implement the supplement in three years’ time offers little help to those struggling to feed their family right now.

As our statistics show, a staggering number of people in Scotland are worrying today about where their next meal is coming from. Perhaps when your own fridge is full it’s hard to feel the same sense of urgency to tackle hunger than if you’re faced with it every day; in your empty kitchen or inside the walls of a food bank.

We know that the Scottish Government wants what we all want; to stop food banks from becoming a permanent feature in our country. But the longer it waits to act, the more people will be turning to food banks as a last resort.

Scottish Ministers can do better than tell Kerry that the absolute best they can do is to help her in 2022. They must give people living on cups of tea and thin air more to sustain them. And they must do it now.

*Name has been changed

This article originally appeared in The Scotsman