A cash first approach to food insecurity isn’t simply a dream, it’s becoming a reality
Updated: May 25
As food insecurity soars in Scotland, the First Minister’s anti-poverty summit must lead to immediate, comprehensive Scottish Government actions to reduce the need for charitable food aid.
On the day Humza Yousaf MSP was elected as Scottish National Party leader, we were together in Glasgow hearing about the inspiring work that’s underway across Scotland to reduce the need for charitable food aid by putting a cash first approach to food insecurity into practice. People working on the frontline of Scotland’s poverty crisis know that a food parcel can’t do more than temporarily alleviate poverty and cash first or income-focused solutions must be prioritised. Tomorrow, we will be meeting the new First Minister at his anti-poverty summit in Edinburgh. We will be asking when the long-awaited national plan to end the need for food banks will be published, how it will be implemented and to what extent a cash first approach to food insecurity will be embraced.
There can be no doubt that Scotland needs to see a change of gear when it comes to efforts to tackle spiralling food insecurity. Just last week, the Trussell Trust published its latest figures showing the distribution of 260,000 parcels across Scotland in the last 12 months, a 30% increase on last year with 60,000 people visiting a Trussell food bank for the first time. IFAN independent food banks across Scotland have also seen consistent and unprecedented increases in demand since the cut to Universal Credit and the start of the cost-of-living crisis. And we know this is just the tip of the iceberg, with recent UK Government data showing the majority of households struggling to afford food don't access a food bank at all. Tens of thousands of people in Scotland are worrying about how to afford food and other essentials with income from work and social security that just doesn’t match the cost of living.
As demand for food parcels has steadily grown over the last decade, the merits of putting income at the heart of Scotland’s response to food insecurity are clearer than ever. Food aid provision cannot solve the problem of inadequate income. In fact, trying to fill the gap created by poverty with food parcels has created a complex food aid landscape, inherent with inefficiencies, failing to either meet people's needs in a way money could or to reduce food insecurity levels.
Our Cash First Future conference in Glasgow at the end of March made it as plain as day that a cash first approach to food insecurity isn’t simply a dream, it’s becoming a reality. Many concrete examples of local and national cash first approaches are already underway.
The Scottish Welfare Fund, providing grants to people in financial crisis through every local authority in Scotland, is being used by local authorities, such as North Lanarkshire, as a first port of call so food parcels can be a last resort when financial help has been exhausted. We heard that in Argyll and Bute, the council’s Flexible Food Fund is providing cash grants alongside advice and support to help families buy food, again reducing the need for charitable food aid.
There’s emerging evidence to suggest that the current Scottish Child Payment of £25 a week is reducing the number of children needing support with food parcels. Audrey Flannagan saw the impact of this cash first action as the numbers of families needing support fell at her Glasgow South East Foodbank, although the picture is mixed across Scotland.
With new research published this week showing £19 billion of support, including from social security, is going unclaimed, there is a critical role for money and debt advice services to help people access the income they’re already entitled to. We heard from advice services in Dalkeith and Glasgow doing their utmost to ensure their help is at the centre of local cash first referral pathways for people struggling to afford food.
In Orkney, Aberdeenshire and Highland, IFAN’s Worrying About Money? leaflets are helping people find the local cash first support they need as well as providing a tool with which local partners can work together to sequence and prioritise income maximisation. Food banks become the last resort as default referral pathways towards emergency food provision are disrupted and reset.
Of course, the most effective cash first approach would be to boost incomes from work and social security predominantly the responsibility of the UK Government. Along with over 90 organisations, the Trussell Trust and IFAN are calling on the UK Government to at least legislate for an Essentials Guarantee, ensuring that the basic rate of Universal Credit always covers the costs of the essentials we all need to live. This would increase the basic rate by £35 a week to at least £120.
However, the Scottish Government also has significant powers to act and what we need is the national plan to end the need for food banks that has been promised but not yet delivered.
Back in October 2021, the Scottish Government took a bold step into uncharted waters as it published a draft national plan to end the need for food banks. This unprecedented move, cementing a commitment to a ‘cash first’ approach to food insecurity, was the envy of campaigners across the globe.
All 38 members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) rely on charitable food aid providers to support people on the lowest incomes. Yet, here was a government strategy being mooted that would put the institutionalisation of food banking into reverse.
Over 400 responses were submitted to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the plan and subsequently analysed. 18 months later and the cost-of-living crisis pushes food insecurity levels to new heights. The plan remains on the table, but its publication date is frustratingly elusive.
Tomorrow’s anti-poverty summit is bringing ‘experts’ together to discuss equality opportunity and community. We will be asked to focus on what immediate action is needed and what medium- and longer-term action should look like.
A very first action is the publication of a national plan to end the need for charitable food aid in Scotland together with the financial firepower to ensure it delivers. A plan that not only provides the framework for the work that’s demonstrably underway and meets the hopes of a legion of ‘cash first’ pioneers, but a plan that involves the use of every power at Holyrood's disposal to end the need for charitable food aid in Scotland.
The value and administrative responsiveness of the Scottish Welfare Fund must be increased, implementing the findings of the recently published Scottish Welfare Fund Review and the A Menu for Change project. It's crucial that existing local advice services are adequately funded, and their expansion prioritised. Public debt recovery must be paused.
The Scottish Child Payment should rise to £40 a week and other Social Security Scotland payments, including Adult and Child Disability Payments, must be uprated in line with inflation.
And it's also vital that precarious work is reduced and a real Living Wage and real Living Hours are prioritised and promoted across Scotland, alongside the extension of free childcare.
The national plan must also include commitment and actions leading to the establishment of a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland while supporting cross-sector calls for the UK Government to introduce an Essentials Guarantee into our threadbare social security system.
Above all, the First Minister must firmly commit, through a deliverable and properly resourced national plan to end the need for charitable food aid, to a cash first future for the soaring number of people in Scotland facing the heart-breaking prospect of not being able to afford food.
Polly Jones is Head of Scotland for the Trussell Trust. The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity supporting 43 food banks in Scotland that distribute food parcels from 138 centres, in 26 local authorities. Trussell Trust's vision is for a UK without the need for food banks.
Sabine Goodwin is Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN). IFAN’s membership includes over 100 independent food banks in 25 local authorities across Scotland. IFAN campaigns to see an end for the need for charitable food aid calling for a cash first approach to food insecurity. IFAN is funded by the Scottish Government to co-develop and disseminate ‘Worrying About Money?’ cash first referral leaflets across Scotland.
Both Polly and Sabine sit on the Scottish Government’s Ending the Need for Food Banks Steering Group. You can read the Trussell Trust’s and IFAN’s responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on ending the need for food banks written in January 2022.
Find out more about the Trussell Trust/IFAN A Cash First Future conference and access resources linked to its multiple sessions here.
Twitter: @TrussellScot & @IFAN_UK