We’ve known for years that more and more people are going hungry in the UK. But we’ve had to rely on the Trussell Trust network to understand how many people have needed to access a food bank because they can’t afford to buy food. Thanks to Scotland’s A Menu for Change I’ve been able to find out more.
From April 2017 to September 2018 the Trussell Trust gave out 258,606 emergency food parcels from 118 food banks across Scotland, but what of the emergency support given out by 94 independent food banks I’d also found to be operating? How many 3-day food packages had these organisations supplied under the radar?
Back in November my colleague Dr Mary Anne MacLeod and I met with independent food bank teams in Glasgow and Edinburgh to launch our joint project to establish the scale of independent food parcel distribution in Scotland. Representatives travelling from far and wide knew they had much in common, in particular that the extent of their work went unreported.
The majority of independent food banks have kept records of how many parcels they’ve distributed, the number of people of they’ve supported and/or the number referrals or visits that have come through their doors. It was our job to work out a common measurement that we could adapt to a variety of systems and to create a database for the many independent food banks able to contribute.
We have now established the number of food parcels that 84 of those 94 independent food banks gave out during that same 18-month period – April 2017 to September 2018. The results are shocking. Independent food banks, operating in 18 local authorities, distributed no less than 221,977 emergency food parcels. Added to the Trussell Trust’s distribution of 258,606 parcels, that makes a total of nearly half a million at 480,583.
In Wigtownshire, Machars Churches’ Basics Food Bank has been operating for seven years and has witnessed a growing demand for emergency food supplies. Its manager Marlane Cash said:
“Today’s figures reveal the herculean efforts being quietly made by independent food banks in their local communities to pick up the pieces of a failing social security system. Clearly, these efforts have been unnoticed and underreported for far too long. These statistics help to paint a more comprehensive picture of just how many people across the Scotland are facing hunger.”
And this disaster on our doorstep is certainly greater than our figures reveal. We know that our statistics don’t include the emergency meals and other forms of food aid provided by countless independent organisations across Scotland, nor the people who don’t access food aid at all and would rather suffer in silence.
How is it that in the 5thrichest economy in the world children across Scotland and the rest of the UK are living in households with no food in the cupboard? It doesn’t take much analysis to understand that with at least 709 more independent food banks operating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the contribution of independent food banks represents a large missing piece of the UK charitable food aid picture.
Marlane adds: “It’s an utter disgrace that anyone in our wealthy country is struggling to find money for basic essentials like food. Hopefully these statistics spur our political leaders into getting serious about tackling food poverty, by ensuring that everyone has the money they need to put food on the table.”
Without a welfare state that is fit for purpose and without wages and job security to match the cost of living, how can this shocking rise in hunger ever be addressed? We hope that the Scottish and UK Governments will sit up and take notice of this data, which almost doubles earlier assessments of food poverty in Scotland. In Scotland, A Menu for Change is using these shocking new figures to urge the Scottish Government to bring in a promised income supplement for Scotland’s poorest families as soon as possible.
Sabine Goodwin is the Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network and led the research in Scotland with A Menu for Change. She would like to express her gratitude to the many independent food banks contributing data and time to this project.