Cara Hillton, Senior Policy & Public Affairs Manager, The Trussell Trust
I love food and spend a lot of time planning out meals, trying out new recipes, watching cookery programmes and generally thinking about what I’ll be eating next!
On my holidays, one of the highlights is visiting local supermarkets and cooking local produce. I pick holiday destinations based on the local cuisine. With three kids, I don’t often eat out in restaurants but when I do, I love trying out different dishes and flavour combinations.
Food is central to all our lives and in a wealthy country like Scotland, everyone should be able to afford to enjoy food and have access to a good quality, affordable and nutritious diet.
Yet one of the biggest scandals today is the fact that for millions, here in Scotland and right across the UK, enjoying food isn’t even an option. Hunger is a daily reality.
Skipping meals, cutting down portions, mums going without to feed their children. Skimping and scraping and making daily impossible decisions between eating a meal or topping up the electric meter.
This isn't right and it shouldn’t be acceptable.
Noone should be facing hunger in a wealthy country like Scotland.
In a just and compassionate society, everyone should have dignified access to good quality, affordable, healthy and sustainable food.
Yet our recent research, Hunger in Scotland revealed that a staggering 1.2 million people in Scotland experienced food insecurity in the past year. This is 1 in 6 adults. Meanwhile, food banks in our Trussell Trust Scotland network have never been so busy, with need up 30% over the past year, more than 62,000 first time visitors and a record number of parcels for children.
And yet most people experiencing food insecurity don’t even go to a food bank. This is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Hunger in Scotland found just 7% of households accessed food aid. People will only visit a food bank when it’s the absolutely last resort; when all other options have been explored and exhausted. But as we head towards winter, our food banks are gearing up for their busiest time ever.
Few of us have been unaffected by the cost of living crisis. Wages aren’t keeping up with inflation and prices for food, petrol and heating just keep going up and up. But for people at risk of hunger, the cost of living crisis is a cost of living emergency.
And this is having an impact on some groups in society more than others:
- Nearly half of households experiencing food insecurity and more than two thirds of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network, are disabled.
- Working-age adults are much more likely to need to turn to a food bank than pensioners.
- Families with children are overrepresented at food banks.
There are many reasons why someone may be forced to use a food bank but the biggest factor is insufficient income.
There is no shortage of food in Scotland. This is not a food emergency. This is an income emergency. People simply don’t have enough income to cover the cost of food and other essentials, never mind enjoying a decent quality of life.
In fact, 9 out of 10 people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network have an income so low they are classed as “destitute” and once again, this is no accident. This isn’t down to poor budgeting but down to an income that just doesn’t even stretch to cover the cost of essentials like food, toiletries, bus fares or heating.
And here there are three main factors at play:
- The design and delivery of our social security system, in Scotland and across the UK
- Insufficient income or hours from paid work
- Difficulty accessing suitable jobs, especially for disabled people and those with caring responsibilities (especially mums)
All of these issues are fixable. It just takes the political will.
At the Trussell Trust, we believe we can build a future where no one needs to use a food bank.
We can do this by increasing people’s incomes, whether that be from social security or work, by breaking down the barriers that enable people to fulfil their potential, such as digital exclusion; and by investing in the infrastructure needed to allow everyone to fully participate in our economy, such as flexible and affordable childcare.
Just before the summer, the Scottish Government published their action plan, Cash First: Towards Ending the Need for Food Banks in Scotland. This is a welcome step forward and has given us hope. But if we’re to achieve a Scotland where no one goes hungry, bold vision and aspiration needs to be backed up with urgent, concerted and scaled up long term actions to tackle the underlying drivers of poverty and destitution, including disability, mental health and caring responsibilities.
We know that when the Scottish Government does things differently, it makes a real difference. We are seeing this with the Scottish Child Payment which is starting to make an impact in reducing the need for food banks for families with children. But this impact isn’t great enough and that’s why we want the Scottish Government to increase the Scottish Child Payment again to at least £40 a week so we can end the scandal of child poverty in Scotland.
We already have enough evidence to show what changes are needed to tackle poverty and end destitution in Scotland. It’s time to get on with this work now, making full use of the Scottish Parliament’s powers, to ensure everyone can afford the essentials and to work towards a fairer future, with a minimum income guarantee for all.
And at UK level, with a General Election on the horizon and change in the air, we are stepping up our calls for action to reform Universal Credit, so it always covers the cost of essentials. Right now, 9 out of 10 low-income households on Universal Credit are going without essentials. We can fix this with an Essentials Guarantee. This would enshrine in law a requirement that the basic rate of Universal Credit would always cover the essentials we all need.
Agree with us? Please sign our petition calling on the UK Government to guarantee our essentials: www.trusselltrust.org/petition
Together, we can build a Scotland where no one goes hungry, where everyone has dignified access to good quality, affordable, healthy and sustainable food. All it takes is the political will.