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Food banks in Scotland call for cash first approaches in the face of uncertain future

Dr Chelsea Marshall

As the end of the furlough scheme approaches, winter fuel costs begin to rise and a ‘No Deal Brexit’ looks more certain than ever, food banks across the UK have been bracing for further increase in need for their support. After seven months of never-before-seen levels of food parcel distribution to support those who have been left behind, food bank staff and volunteers are running out of steam.

Today’s announcement will therefore provide some reassurance to food banks, who have been raising concerns for weeks that a ‘perfect storm’ is heading their way. Advocating for a ‘cash-first approach where appropriate’, the Scottish Government announced:

  • an additional £10 million to local authorities to support families eligible for free school meals over the coming Christmas, February and Easter holidays;

  • flexibility to use £20 million that was previously allocated to the Scottish Welfare Fund to support local responses to meet people’s needs.

While flexibility to work within local context is welcome, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the past seven months. In our next ‘COVID-19 learning and reflections’ briefing, independent food aid providers in Scotland share their thoughts about how they have coped with the sharp and sustained increase in need for their services during the pandemic and concerns about what is to come.

Experience from the early stages of lockdown has shown us that people need:

  • Promotion of available financial support through as many communication routes as possible.

  • Clear and easy to understand information about how to access existing financial support, such as Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grants.

  • Well-trained and empathetic call handlers on local authority and national helplines who can provide appropriate and effective referrals to services that help people access a) financial support to address the immediate situation, and b) all their financial entitlements and related support.

For those on the frontline, the message is clear – food aid is not what people need to overcome this crisis, and the community and voluntary sector cannot be left responsible for meeting people’s essential needs.

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