Hard Choices: Reducing the need for food banks in Scotland

September 19, 2015

Food bank users tell their own stories in hard hitting new report

Gaps in the social security safety net are the key reason why people in Scotland are turning to food banks - but action at Scottish and local level could also help families avoid crisis, according to a report published today by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, in association with the Trussell Trust and Oxfam Scotland.

The report builds upon UK-wide research – Emergency Use Only[1]- which found that for between half and two thirds of food banks users interviewed, the immediate trigger for food bank use was linked to problems with benefits (including waiting for benefits to be paid, sanctions, problems with Employment Support Allowance) or missing tax credits.

The Scottish report launched today tells the stories of six families who accessed food banks in central Scotland. It uses their experiences to highlight opportunities for the Scottish Government and local authorities to protect children at risk of the income crises at the heart of food bank use. [2]

The report makes a series of recommendations for Scottish policy makers, based on the Emergency Use Only findings, but also informed by Child Poverty Action Group’s (CPAG) wider research – including the CPAG Early Warning System [3]. Areas requiring further attention from the Scottish Government and local authorities They include:

  • Investing in local income maximisation, benefits and debt advice
  • Ensuring that affordable, reliable transport is available locally
  • Removing financial barriers to local services such as schools and health services
  • Facilitating access to emergency financial support like crisis grants
  • Using future social security powers to be devolved to Scotland to boost family income
  • Using public purchasing power and wider influence to improve the practice of employers

 John Dickie of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland said:

 "Food bank use and income crisis is increasing, largely as the result of changes to the social security system implemented by the UK Government, but regardless of what is triggering the income crisis, local authorities, the Scottish Government and employers have a real opportunity to do more to protect the health and wellbeing of children and families. They can all do more to poverty proof services, improve access to affordable transport, support struggling employees and ensure all families get the benefits and tax credits they are entitled to. We urge the Scottish Government, local authorities and employers to listen to the often distressing stories told in this report and take a harder look at what could be done here and now to help hard-pressed families in the face of a failing UK social security system."

 The families interviewed, on the basis their full identities would not be released, included:

 • Aleksander and Elena have a new baby. Aleksander works in a factory but reported the family were struggling financially because of unpredictable employment and low wages. Aleksander said: "We were working for an agency and they didn't call us for two weeks. So I had to find another job. I don't know why they just didn't call. We waited, but we needed to work and they [did] not call for us. The agency didn't tell us why."

 • Barbara is a professional who experienced mental health difficulties after the sudden death of her partner. Barbara reported that she had no income for three months after she missed an appointment for a benefit assessment. She said: "It had a snowball effect. From being a home owner... having a good job, in a great relationship, [to] him dying, losing everything, losing my home... it's just like there is one thing after another. It's like a domino effect."

 • Christie reported that she had to leave her job after severe arthritis meant she could no longer work as a carer. She said she was eventually made redundant and had been waiting for two months for an Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessment. She said: "I was used to going out working and bringing in £800 a month, everything was kind of tickety-boo and then you go from that to having to... I wouldn't call it begging, but having to ask for money from the government to keep you, it's quite a stoop." She added: "When I have got enough money I try and buy dry goods, pastas, sauces, cheaper things... I live sort of on a week to week basis just on my ESA but obviously money has been tight... it's difficult, it's very, very difficult."

 • Donna and Robbie, who have three children, said they were both looking for work and visited the foodbank because an interruption to their benefit meant their income was cut to just £48.10-a-week. Donna explained that her mental health problems made maintaining work difficult. She said: "I had post-natal depression with [my first baby]. And then I just sink back into it but just now is the worst I have ever been. Everything that is getting flung at us is making it even worse. It is making me think things I should not be thinking. My biggest fear is that I might want to go to the doctor and tell him how I feel. The fear is they are going to say take the children away from me because they think I'm losing it."

The most recent figures from the Trussell Trust show that Figures from the Trussell Trust show that, in 2014/15, 117,689 people, including 36,114 children were provided with three days emergency food by Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland. The number of people referred two years earlier was 14,318.[4]

Ewan Gurr from the Trussell Trust, said:

“This is a timely report and The Trussell Trust welcomes the research and recommendations made to the Scottish Government and to local authorities across Scotland. It is hard to pinpoint a time when it has been as difficult for individuals to secure sustainable employment and a reasonable income and, for families, to provide a secure environment within which to raise children. These are the voices that need to be heard in our political discourse. I credit the effort made by Jane Perry and our colleagues at the Child Poverty Action Group to elevate the insights made by those experiencing financial hardship and the consequences of food poverty with a view to identifying solutions. Only then can we begin to reduce the need for foodbanks in Scotland and, God willing, move towards eradicating food poverty altogether.”

 Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said:

 “In rich Scotland, no-one should be going hungry. “Too often we focus on statistics but this report, produced by CPAG in Scotland, builds on UK-wide research and underlines the severe personal impact on individuals and their families.

 “We must do more to fulfil peoples’ right to food, and all levels of government must examine what more they can do to reduce the need for foodbanks in Scotland.”

 For more information contact: Hanna McCulloch at CPAG in Scotland on 0141 611 7090 or by emailing hmcculloch@cpagscotland.org.uk

 Notes to Editors

[1] www.cpag.org.uk/hardchoices

[2] www.cpag.org.uk/content/new-report-why-do-people-use-foodbanks

[3] www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/early-warning-system

[4] www.trusselltrust.org/stats