What is A Menu for Change?

Our project partners highlight the food insecurity challenge faced in Scotland and how our project plans to tackle it.

This short video filmed at our The Scottish Parliament is a brief introduction to our project. It features all our project partners from Oxfam Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Nourish Scotland & Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland outlining the aims of A Menu for Change. They describe the current crisis of food insecurity in Scotland, and how ‘food poverty’ can only be addressed by tackling the root causes of poverty

Ending all poverty needs a focus on incomes, not sticking plasters

It shouldn’t really need to be said, but it is an outrage that in 2017 there are women in Scotland who can’t afford sanitary products. Encouragingly, there has been growing media and political attention on this issue over the past year or so and we have heard shocking accounts of women and girls compromising their health and wellbeing because they don’t have access to these essential items.

This week, an initiative was launched by the Scottish Government which will see £42,500 invested in piloting the provision of sanitary products to low-income women through Community Food Initiatives North East, a social enterprise and charity in Aberdeen which redistributes surplus food to local partner organisations.

In truth, a variety of community organisations and others have been providing free sanitary products and other basic essentials for some time, reflecting their incredible desire to step in and help people facing urgent need. They deserve huge credit for doing so.

Yet while it is of course important to respond to immediate need it is also critical that we do not lose sight of the wider context of poverty in which this issue has emerged. To do so would be to forget that in order to end ‘period poverty’, we must focus on ending poverty.

If a woman can’t afford to buy sanitary products then it is likely that she also doesn’t have money for other essentials. As we have seen from the rise in food banks, low income – driven by insecure, low-paid work and an inadequate benefits system – means people are increasingly struggling to meet their basic needs. Without efforts to address these structural issues, short-term, targeted initiatives will only ever serve as sticking plasters which deal with the symptoms, not the causes of people’s poverty.

In the context of the rise of food banks there has been a danger that by focusing on ‘food crisis’ and ‘feeding responses’ we have become distracted from looking at the systemic changes that are needed to increase incomes and ensure dignified, non-stigmatising solutions. That’s why our project – A Menu for Change – aims to reduce the need for food banks by focusing on prevention and increasing people’s access to their cash entitlements.

There is a similar risk that we become distracted when trying to grapple with the scandal of ‘period poverty’.

We recognise that food is a basic human right and that everyone should have enough money to be able to feed themselves and their families. Women’s health is also a basic human right and so action is needed to address the structural barriers to achieving that right for all, which includes access to sanitary products. However, it is vital that ‘period poverty’, like ‘food poverty’, is not looked at in isolation but is recognised as a potent indicator of material deprivation. To tackle both, we need to retain a sharp focus on the underlying cause: poverty.

Author: Mary Anne MacLeod, Research and Policy Officer

Who Uses Food banks?

Research published this week provides important new insights into food bank use in the UK. The study by Oxford University is the largest yet to investigate the profile of people who are turning to food banks for help. Findings show the vulnerable status of high proportions of food bank users, with lone parents and people with disabilities over-represented among their number.

The study also asks important questions about the economic status and income sources of food bank users. The results highlight the financial drivers of food bank use. All households using food banks report incomes well below measures of low income, and 1 in 10 say they’d had no income at all.

Most people using food banks are in receipt of out-of-work benefits (69.3%), with Employment Support Allowance (ESA) the most common source of income, followed by Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). The majority of ESA claimants are in the work-related activity group. As the report highlights, claimants who are vulnerable to sanctions are more common among food bank users. These groups are also more likely to have experienced a benefits change following a work capability assessment or move to Universal Credit.

A Menu for Change has been speaking to people who have used food banks across our project areas of Fife, Dundee and East Ayrshire. Their experiences echo a lot of what this new report tells us. People with disabilities spoke about failing medical assessments, having to cope with a sudden drop in their income, and not getting the right information or support to manage the appeals process. Sandra, a woman in her 50s, described the challenges she faced in appealing an ESA decision which left her for a long period with no income whatsoever:

“I failed a medical for ESA, and while you’re waiting to see if they’re going to change that decision, you don’t get any money, unless you claim Jobseeker’s. But to claim Jobseeker’s you have to say that you’re fit for work. And clearly I’m not, I can’t breathe properly or anything, so I couldn’t sign on. And it’s taken twice as long as it usually takes because they lost the first lot of papers. It’s actually thirteen weeks this week I haven’t had any money at all, nothing”.

Had Sandra received the right advice and support, she could have avoided this long gap in income and not have had to turn to a food bank for help. Through A Menu for Change we will be working with local services to improve people’s access to cash in a crisis, making sure that those like Sandra are supported to navigate the system and are not left unnecessarily destitute in the process.

The Oxford University report also raises particular concerns about the operations of the benefits system, highlighting common challenges faced by food bank users. High numbers of those turning to food banks have been left with no income as they wait for the outcome of a new benefit application. 39% of food bank users in the study had recently made a new benefit claim and were waiting for a decision or payment. Almost 1-in-5 of those had been waiting for 7 weeks or more.

People we have spoken to in our research also describe having to wait long periods for new claims to be processed. After Jean’s husband died she was left with no money while she submitted a new benefits claim as a lone parent. At this time she was referred to the food bank to help her to feed her children.
We also met Robert, along with his wife and young son, at a food bank. He had been sent by the Job Centre while they dealt with his benefits application:

“basically the contract ended for the job, so I ended up out of work. It was the fourth of March, so it was, and I’ve tried to get onto Job Seeker’s Allowance for a whole month now and I’ve still not received one penny from them”

Neither Robert nor Jean had been offered a short-term benefits advance, or other emergency payments which they are entitled to in these sorts of situations. Again, getting the right advice would have meant having money in their pockets to be able to meet their families’ basic needs without having to turn to charity for help. Their experiences suggest services are sending people to food banks before making sure they have access to all of their cash entitlements.

A Menu for Change thinks people should not have to turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families. Research from Oxford University and our own conversations with people at food banks in Scotland show that they often do so when the safety net has let them down. Our social protection system should be working better for people. There are cash supports available for those awaiting benefit payments or experiencing sanctions. Rather than a food bank referral becoming the default, we need to make sure local services are working to maximise access to these crisis supports. At the same time we need to continue to pressure for policy changes which will strengthen the safety net and prevent people from falling into food insecurity.

Over the next three years we will be working to achieve these sorts of policy and practice changes. We want to achieve a shift away from emergency food aid as the solution and towards preventative and rights-based measures which increase the incomes of people facing crises.

Author: Mary Anne MacLeod, Research and Policy Officer

Get involved with A Menu for Change

Last night saw the launch of A Menu for Change at the Scottish Parliament. Staff and volunteers from community projects, as well as statutory services, elected representatives, policy makers, and local people attended to learn about this exciting new project and how they can be involved.

The event laid out clearly our strategic intent for the Project – to end the need for food bank use in Scotland. It was clear from the different presentations and discussions that this is a widely shared vision. By working collaboratively with local projects and services, A Menu for Change will improve the support people get when they face a crisis.

We know that food insecurity is a problem of lack of income, so we believe the best solutions are those which increase people’s access to cash so they can afford their own food.

In developing this project we spoke to food bank providers and others supporting people in crisis who told us that they wanted to have a stronger voice – to be able to bring their experiences to influencing policy and practice change both locally and nationally.

We want to learn from local services across the country about what they are doing to address food insecurity. We want to hear from you if you are involved in community food activities or work to help maximise incomes, provide welfare rights or money advice, improve access to affordable credit, or other activities which seek to mitigate the problems which mean people end up with no money for food.

We’re also keen to understand the successes and challenges you’ve experienced in this work and what’s worked and what hasn’t. What has enabled you to achieve positive outcomes for people, and what have been the main barriers?

While A Menu for Change will be working intensively in three local authority areas, we will be looking to identify best practice from across the country and facilitating networking and learning opportunities for all who are keen to be involved.

We heard yesterday from Martin Cawley, Director of the Big Lottery Fund Scotland, that the three words he feels sum up A Menu for Change are citizenship, collaboration and leadership.

Through this project we’ll be calling on local services to step up to the plate and act as leaders in championing progressive solutions to food insecurity. This will require close collaboration across different sectors, building on existing networks as well as developing new partnerships.

Ultimately this work is about upholding the principles of citizenship, ensuring people have access to their rights and entitlements and are not forced to rely on charity. We recognise this is no small ask. But as was highlighted yesterday by Jeane Freeman the Minister for Social Security, now is a golden opportunity in Scotland to act to reverse the entrenchment of food banks within our safety net.

We want to harness your energy and anger at the injustice of food insecurity to help us achieve this ambitious goal. Over the coming weeks and months our Project Team will be out and about getting to know local projects and services and discussing how we can work together. We will be promoting our events, publications and other updates here. If you are keen to be involved we would love to hear from you.

Get in touch with us today: info@menuforchange.org.uk

Author: Mary Anne MacLeod, Research and Policy Officer

Parliamentary Reception

On Thursday 22nd June, A Menu for Change along with MSP Alex Rowley hosted a parliamentary reception to unveil the details of this important and innovative new project to tackle food insecurity. As a partnership project run in conjunction with Oxfam, Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group and Nourish Scotland, this event, like A Menu for Change, was multi-purpose. With the event we wanted to introduce who we are, why we are here and what we are hoping to do.

As well as giving us the opportunity to present the strategy, context and intent for this project, we wanted to bring together a variety of stakeholders from across Scotland to begin the conversation about how we can work together to tackle increased food bank use. Food insecurity is nothing if it is not far-reaching and we wanted our attendees to be representative of this diversity of experience. Over 100 staff and volunteers from community projects, as well as statutory services, elected representatives, policy makers and local people attended to learn about how they can get involved. We want this project to build on existing networks as well as develop new partnerships; it was an invaluable opportunity for the project to connect with people responding or connected to food insecurity and indeed for those attending to make connections with one another.

We heard from a number of speakers on the evening all of whom shared A Menu for Change’s vision that in order to tackle food crisis we have to address income crisis.

Alex Rowley MSP, hosting the event spoke of the cross party responsibility to challenge the growing need for food banks and the urgency of tackling this increasingly endemic issue. Echoing this was the Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman who talked of the ‘pressing need’ to address food poverty which is ‘symptom of wider poverty’. She said that now is the golden opportunity to reverse the entrenchment of food banks in our society. A clear running theme from the speakers was that food banks should not become the norm for Scotland and that we have to find another path.

Local authorities have an important role to play in helping us achieve change at a local level. We will work intensively in three local authorities: Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife. Dundee City Councillor Bill Campbell spoke on behalf of the three areas and re-iterated the sentiments of the elected members:

‘food banks must not become a permanent or acceptable part of our society… we must ensure that anyone using a food bank is using all statutory sources of support’.

The most powerful testimony came however not from elected or third sector representatives but from two parents who, through video link, described the experience of having to access a food bank: ‘I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed cause I felt as though I shouldn’t be going there’. Giving an important reminder that food banks do not represent a dignified response to acute food insecurity – as one parent stated ‘nobody should not have enough money to buy food’.

This project requires local authorities, communities and organisations to step up to the plate and work together to champion progressive solutions to food insecurity. Indeed Martin Cawley from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland summed up the project in three words: ‘citizenship, collaboration and leadership’. We see this event as the first step in harnessing the existing collective energy in Scotland towards an evolved response to food insecurity which puts cash, rights and dignity at its core.

A Menu for Change: Cash, Rights, Food

Anela Anwar – Programme Manager, Oxfam Scotland

Time is running out to prevent food banks becoming a permanent part of Scotland’s social safety net.

A decade ago, they barely existed. Now, they’re prolific.

Yet food isn’t in short supply: anyone who’s been to the shops lately knows supermarket bosses aren’t struggling to fill the shelves. Food insecurity is caused by too much poverty, not too little food.

People in Scotland have responded incredibly by refusing to let their neighbours go hungry – they’ve set-up food banks and continue to volunteer their time or donate money or other basic essentials. But it’s all becoming worryingly normal.

In reality, there’s nothing normal about people in Scotland going hungry. Food banks were never intended to become a permanent feature of Scottish society; they were supposed to be a stop gap measure. Yet here we are.

While the full scale of food insecurity is not known, it is clear the problem is getting worse.

That’s why Oxfam Scotland, along with our partners Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Nourish Scotland and The Poverty Alliance, has launched a new project aimed at going beyond stop gap measures and tonight we’re hosting a major event at the Scottish Parliament.

The project – called A Menu for Change – is focused on tackling the root causes of food insecurity in Scotland. Evidence suggests the key drivers of acute income crises are low income, insecure work, rising living costs, and also the operation and inadequacy of the social security system.

That’s why the solution to ending food insecurity in Scotland isn’t food. It’s cash.

Access to food is a basic human right and even in a time of income crisis, people must be able to access emergency funds so they can buy food.

Sometimes there are ways of getting that cash, such as through the Scottish Welfare Fund, but often people don’t know the Fund exists or that they’re able to use it. 

That’s something we are hoping to help address. By working with local groups and key public sector stakeholders across Scotland, and intensively in Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife, the project aims to come up with ways to stop people from facing a cash crisis in the first place.

But we also know that however much we try to prevent it from happening, some people will remain at risk of slipping through the net. We know too that building community around food is a powerful means of bridging other challenges – including social isolation. So we’ll also be piloting alternative ways for people to be able to access the money and food they need in as dignified a way as possible.

One Scottish mum, Summer, told us that she’d had to use a food bank because her benefits were delayed by 15 weeks. Without the food bank, she’d have had no way of feeding her three kids. The trouble was that one of her children had a food allergy which made it tricky to get the food she needed at the food bank. To Summer, having access to cash during one of the most difficult times of her life would’ve made the world of difference simply because it would’ve meant she could make meals her child was able to eat.

Ultimately, we don’t want people in Scotland to face hunger in the first place and we hope the evidence we gather from this project will help achieve a country free from the acute income crises which lead to food insecurity.

No-one wants food banks to become a permanent feature of our communities. To ensure they don’t, we need to work together to evolve the emergency response from food to money.

This article was first published by The Herald.

Pilot areas named for new food insecurity project in Scotland

Announcement to be made at Scottish Parliament reception

The three areas in which a unique project will pilot new preventative and rights-based approaches to cut the number of people turning to food banks will be announced tonight at an event at the Scottish Parliament.

The project – called ‘A Menu for Change: Cash, Rights, Food’ – is a partnership between Oxfam Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Nourish Scotland and The Poverty Alliance. The four organisations have come together to help reduce the need for and reliance on emergency food aid across Scotland.

The project will work intensively with local groups in Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife. The three areas will be named tonight at an event at the Scottish Parliament sponsored by Alex Rowley, the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.

The project will focus on ensuring more people access statutory and cash-based crisis support, including the Scottish Welfare Fund, as well as debt minimisation. It will also promote alternative, dignified ways of supporting those who are food insecure, such as community cafes and food cooperatives.

Anela Anwar, Oxfam Scotland Programme Manager, said:

We are really pleased to be working with local partners in these three areas but we are determined to learn lessons to inform the response to food insecurity right across Scotland.

It is a scandal that while shops in Scotland are stuffed full with food so many people’s stomachs are empty because they can’t afford to buy food.

A Menu for Change is working to prevent food banks from becoming a permanent part of Scotland’s social security net. Even at a time of crisis, everyone in Scotland should have the money they need to feed themselves and their families, and buy other basic essentials.

Latest figures show a growing hunger problem in Scotland, with the number of emergency food aid packages handed out by the Trussell Trust increasing by more than 900 percent in the three years up to 2015/16. However, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg, with the true scale of household food insecurity in Scotland still unknown due to a lack of available data on people who use other crisis services or skip meals instead of going to food banks.

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said:

We believe that access to sufficient nutritious food is a basic human right and that no one in a nation that is as prosperous as Scotland should have to access food banks.

A range of actions are needed to stop people having to rely on emergency food provision, including our £1 million a year Fair Food Fund and the support provided to people in crisis via the £38 million Scottish Welfare Fund. We are also continuing to address the underlying issues of food poverty.

I’m encouraged to see this partnership coming together to help people and treat them in a dignified and respectful manner – something which the Scottish Government also places at the heart of its work.

The three-year project was awarded nearly £1m by The Big Lottery Fund Scotland.

Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour Deputy Leader and Equalities spokesperson, said:

The people of Scotland have responded incredibly generously to help their neighbours who are struggling to put food on the table, whether volunteering or donating to a food bank.

However the reality is food banks were never intended as a long-term solution to hunger and they should not become an entrenched part of our social safety net.

This project offers a real opportunity to pilot alternative approaches to addressing food insecurity. All political parties should redouble our efforts to ensure everyone is treated with dignity, respect and given the support they need to tackle the underlying income crises which have resulted in a surge in food bank use in Scotland.

—– ENDS —–

For more information please contact Rebecca Lozza, Media and Communications Officer, Oxfam Scotland, on 0141 285 8875 or RLozza1@Oxfam.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  • About A Menu for Change: The project aims to lead and support an evolution in the way Scotland responds to food insecurity by encouraging a shift away from emergency food aid and towards measures which increase the incomes of people facing acute income crises. The project will work with public and third sector groups in East Ayrshire, Dundee and Fife to review and improve existing practice to put cash at the heart of the response. It will also provide practical and financial support to organisations to pilot new services, including the provision of healthy food alongside welfare rights, money advice, and other support services. The project team will share learnings from A Menu for Change across Scotland.
  • About The Big Lottery Fund: The A Menu for Change project is funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund. The Big Lottery Fund supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. We are responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery and invest over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes. The Big Lottery Fund Scotland is focussed on helping people and communities most in need throughout Scotland through its five-year £250m funding scheme as well as small grants schemes Awards for All and Investing in Ideas. Since March 2007 Big Lottery Fund Scotland has taken devolved decisions on Lottery spending, the Committee, led by Chair, Maureen McGinn plays a strategic role in the future direction of the Fund in Scotland.
  • The Trussell Trust distributed 14,332 food parcels in Scotland in 2012-13 and 133,726 in 2015-16. Trussell Trust, ‘Foodbank statistics with regional breakdown’ https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/#fy-2015-2016.