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.