Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife: innovation from the ground up

I can’t decide what my personal best is. It’s either six trains and five buses in one day or when I did a round trip from Glasgow to Fife via Stirling, Perth and, somewhat randomly, Kilmarnock. Not being able to drive has never felt so silly.

But there is a reason that I often find myself wandering the length and breadth of the country in the space of a day. It’s because A Menu for Change works intensively across three areas: Dundee, Fife and East Ayrshire.  There are lots of reasons we’ve chosen these areas. They were all keen to be a part of A Menu for Change and they represent the diversity of local authorities across Scotland, which is crucial for a project tackling an issue common to all – rising levels of food insecurity.

The biggest indicator we have that more and more people are experiencing food insecurity across the country are the large numbers of people accessing emergency food aid, alongside the sheer prevalence of food banks in our communities. The Trussell Trust reports that in 2016 /17 it had provided around 150,000 food parcels across Scotland.

That’s enough food to feed the entire population of Dundee for three days.

And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know how many parcels were given out nationally by all of the numerous independent emergency food aid providers and we simply don’t know how many people find other ways of coping rather than stepping into a food bank.

Food insecurity is a problem of poverty. People worry about being able to buy food; knowingly and routinely compromise the quality and quantity of food they are eating; skip meals and ultimately experience hunger because of a lack of income to afford food or meet their most basic of needs.

A Menu for Change believes everyone should have the money they need to buy food, rather than having no option but to rely on charitable donations. We believe that people should be able to feed themselves healthily and with dignity and that means having adequate income, access to rights and entitlements, choice, and control.

That belief drives the work we’re doing in Dundee, Fife and East Ayrshire, although in each area, there’s already a lot activity taking place to tackle food insecurity.

In Fife there is a burgeoning community food sector and last year a piece of research considering the spread and impact of food insecurity across the Kingdom was commissioned. East Ayrshire has a history of successful partnership working between the job centre, the food bank and East Ayrshire Council’s Financial Inclusion Group to reduce numbers of people having no option but to turn to emergency food aid. And Dundee has Dundee Drop In Network, which brings together all of the drop in cafes which often help people connect to wider support services.

One blog is not enough to do justice to all of the work happening across these three areas but rest assured there are many examples of good practice.

And it’s this good practice that A Menu for Change hopes to build on and share.  Of course we know what’s needed is a social security safety net which catches everyone and secure work which covers the costs of living.  But we also believe there is action we can take right now to tackle food insecurity in our local areas.

That’s why every month we meet with a varied group of service providers and local people in each area. Together we cast a critical eye over the local landscape of service provision to consider our current response to food insecurity and financial crisis is and what it could be.

There are emerging themes which are common across all three areas. Good communication and partnership working is key to ensuring services are as co-ordinated as possible. Another priority is to increase access to knowledge and information for community members, alongside raising awareness of the pivotal role that quality, expert advice can play in resolving and preventing income crises. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a desire across the board for more service provision and investment in resources.

All of these common themes are within the gift of service providers to begin tackling, and indeed they have.

Emerging pieces of work include looking at better referral procedures to preventative services to ensure food bank referrals are only made when other rights, cash-based and more sustainable responses are not available, as well as reviewing Scottish Welfare Fund decision notifications and referral procedures to maximise support to people who apply.

This sort of practice development doesn’t happen overnight. However, having three local authorities approaching these issues from different angles means the learning is rich and diverse.

We hope that by the end of the project we’ll be able to demonstrate local change which can be replicated and adapted throughout Scotland to ensure that fewer people experience food insecurity.

So whilst I may as well live on a bus or train, working Scotland-wide is necessary. I feel privileged to witness the innovation happening from the ground up to improve and evolve the way that Scotland responds to food insecurity.

Author: Anna Baillie, Project Officer