Cash-First: Towards ending the need for food banks in Scotland Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA)

The Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment considers the impact of the Scottish Government’s Cash-First Plan and associated actions to improve the response to financial crisis and reduce the need for emergency food parcels.

CRWIA Stage 2 – Assessment of Impact and Compatibility


The Scottish Government’s 2021 and 2022 Programmes for Government committed to publishing a Plan, grounded in human rights, that sets out the further action we will take to improve the response to hardship so as to reduce the need for food banks. This is a cornerstone of our commitment to tackling poverty, protecting and fulfilling the right to food and achieving our Good Food Nation ambition.

A draft Plan was developed with contributions from a stakeholder steering group and direct experience reference group, and this was published for consultation between 20 October 2021 and 25 January 2022.[1] There were over 400 responses[2] and an independent analysis of views has been published.[3] This reaffirmed a shared consensus across Scotland, including among food banks and other food aid providers, for a human rights informed approach to ensure that everyone can afford an adequate diet.

On 5 June 2023, the Scottish Government published Cash-First: Towards ending the need for food banks in Scotland (“the Plan”).[4] This details the nine targeted actions the Scottish Government will take over the next three years, alongside other public bodies, local services and anti-poverty organisations to improve the response to crisis and start to reduce the need for emergency food parcels. The learning from these actions will help to identify scalable interventions that move us closer towards our longer term ambition of a Scotland without the need for food banks, which we will continue to pursue to the fullest of our power and resource.

Our shared ambition is that everyone has a sufficient and secure income to be able to access food that meets their needs and preferences. Where financial hardship occurs, coordinated local responses are in place which prioritise cash-first assistance and integrate money advice and other holistic support services to reduce the need for food aid and prevent future hardship. Where help to access food is still needed, this is provided in a way that maximises dignity.

While food insecurity and food bank use can occur in all household profiles, evidence suggests that younger people and households with children have a higher than average prevalence. These households may therefore benefit more from action to improve the response and prevent future hardship. A wide range of evidence has been considered to inform this view, and impact will continue to be reviewed during the delivery of the Plan.

Part 1 - What evidence have you used to inform your assessment? What does it tell you about the impact on children’s rights?

This impact assessment considers the likely impact of the Plan and associated actions on the rights of children and young people. In doing so, we have considered official statistics and wider survey data, evidence from frontline services and academic research, and views from children and young people and children’s rights organisations.

1.1 - Official statistics and wider survey data on prevalence of food insecurity

The Family Resources Survey and Scottish Health Survey provide official statistics on experience of food insecurity. The Family Resources Survey provides data on prevalence by the age of the head of the household and includes data on those aged 16 and 17 as part of the 16-24 age group.[5] The latest data is from 2021-22 and found 18% of households with a head aged 16-24 experienced food insecurity, compared to the 7% average.

The Family Resources Survey also provides data on prevalence based on household composition and includes households with one, two and three or more children, as well as those with no children. The latest data highlighted that single adult households had the lowest rates of food security[6]:

  • households with one adult and children were more likely to experience food insecurity rising from 21% for one child within the household to 27% for three or more children;
  • households with two adults and children had lower rates of household food insecurity – 6% for households with one child, rising to 11% for three or more children; and
  • households with three or more adults experienced food insecurity levels ranging from 5% for one child to 18% for three or more children within the household.

The Scottish Health Survey (SHeS[7] provides data on experience of household food insecurity, and this includes disaggregation by age. The latest data set from 2021 suggests that younger people experience higher levels of concern of food insecurity:

  • 12% aged 16-24 compared with 18% aged 25-34 and 0% for those aged 75 and over were most likely to worry about running out of food in the previous 12 months[8];
  • 6% aged 16-24 compared with 12% aged 25-34 and 0% aged 75 and over reported eating less than they normally would over the previous 12 months because of a lack of money or other resources[9] ; and
  • 2% aged 16-24 compared with 5% aged 25-34 and 0% aged 75 and over reported running out of food in the previous 12 months due to lack of money or other resources.[10]

Data from these surveys is used for reporting against our National Outcomes, our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan and Good Food Nation ambition.

Part 2 - Evidence from frontline services and academic research

While data from food banks can provide helpful insight from frontline crisis response services, this is not a reliable indicator of need as many people experiencing hardship do not seek this assistance.

The Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network publish regular data on the household profile of the people who seek support from food banks in their networks. It should be noted that this data does not cover all food banks or food aid provision. While both organisations publish data on the number of households with children supported, neither provides data on the age profile of those supported under the age of 16.

Trussell Trust data covering April 2022 – September 2022[11] found that over 34% of parcels provided in Scotland supported households with children. The Trussell Trust’s State of Hunger report 2021[12] indicated that while the socio-economic profiles of people who report food insecurity and those who are referred to food banks are generally similar, this is not the case for young people aged 16-24 who have ‘high levels of food insecurity but low levels of referrals to food banks’.

The Trussell Trust’s most recent end-year statistics, published on 26 April 2023[13] for April 2022-March 2023, highlighted a total of 259,744 food parcels had been provided - 171,776 to adults with a further 87,968 (33.8%) to children. These figures reflect a 30% increase compared to 2021/2022, 37% across the UK. The number of parcels provided between April 2022 – March 2023 represents a 50% increase in the number of parcels distributed by food banks in the Trussell Trust network in Scotland five years ago in 2017/18, with the increase in parcels for children greater still, at 57%.

The report also highlighted that Scotland saw a smaller percentage increase in the number of parcels provided for children from November 2022-March 2023. There was a 17% increase in Scotland compared to 42% in England. At the Social Justice and Social Security Committee (Scottish Parliament, 4 May 2023) Trussell Trust stated that “The Scottish Child Payment is a great example of a policy that is starting to make a positive difference…..When we released our annual parcel figures last week (26 April 2023) it does look like there's a much lower percentage increase in the number of parcels for children from November 2022 to March 2023.”

The Scottish Welfare Fund[14] can provide financial support in the form of a crisis grant – cash or cash equivalent – if experiencing an unexpected emergency situation e.g. fire or flood. It can also provide assistance with community care grants to help with expenses to live within the community. Data collected up to 30 September 2022[15] highlights that since its inception in April 2013, 491,630 unique households received at least one award, of which there were 22% single parent households.

A Scottish Government funded pilot project delivered by Citizens Advice Scotland offered shopping cards as an alternative to food bank referrals via seven advice bureaux between 2021-22.[16] Their monitoring data found that of the 3,337 shopping cards issued, 1,566 (46.9%) were for children within a household. No data was collected to evaluate the age of people who accepted welfare and/or money advice.

Food Foundation[17] data published January 2023 stated that 24.4% of households with children experienced food insecurity. 84% of households were concerned about the impact of the cost of living on their children’s general wellbeing.

There is limited published academic evidence on food insecurity experiences of children and young people. The available research does indicate that few children actually experience severe food insecurity because adults, particularly women, in the household try to protect children from the impact[18]. However the research notes that children are aware of food insecurity in their families and internalise responsibility for managing food resources to alleviate pressure on their carers.[19]

One qualitative study provides evidence of teenagers developing informal strategies to combat food insecurity; namely sharing food within their peer networks outside of the home.[20] Another study highlights, however, how the inability to afford food can have a detrimental effect on young people’s social interaction, as they are restricted from leisure activities that involve buying and consuming food.[21] Young adults experiencing food insecurity, who may have recently left the parental home, can find it harder to seek out, or accept, both formal and informal support due to perceived stigma and ‘a strong sense of independence’. [22]

Some UK research has focused on food insecurity during the school holidays, where the pressure on household budgets for food can become more acute for children eligible to receive free school meals on the basis of low income.[23],[24],[25],[26] Since the onset of the pandemic, payments in lieu of the cost of meals has been provided to families alongside a range of local holiday activity, meal and childcare provision. Local areas have adopted different models and some literature has questioned the extent to which programmes that focus solely on meal provision represent a socially acceptable solution to childhood food insecurity. [27],[28],[29],[30]

There is evidence that food insecurity during childhood can impact on developmental outcomes including diminished academic, behavioural and social functioning as well as negative mental health outcomes.[31] Child hunger has also been linked with depression and suicidal thoughts in late adolescence and early adulthood.[32]

Part 3 - Views from children and young people, and children’s rights organisations

The Food Foundation undertook a Children's Future Food Inquiry[33] and the findings resulted in the development of a Children's Right2Food nationwide initiative to ensure every child in the UK can access and afford good food. Led by a team of Young Food Ambassadors across the UK, the campaign called for government action to tackle children’s food insecurity and childhood obesity caused by inequalities.

In March 2021 the Scottish Government food insecurity team convened a meeting with the Young Food Ambassadors based in Scotland and Scottish Government policy leads from school-age child care, free school meals, child poverty and attainment challenge. The young people shared their experiences and campaign asks while also asking questions of officials on relevant areas of policy development. It was an important opportunity for officials to hear directly from young people to help inform development of food policy that impacts on them. The relationship is ongoing and a follow up meeting with the group will take place in late Spring 2023. This will help inform the delivery of the Plan in practice.

The Scottish Youth Parliament recently held a campaign[34] on the Right to Food and have published their findings.[35] There were 846 respondents between the age of 12-26 to the consultation. Over 90% of young people agreed with their statement that ‘The right to food should be upheld in Scotland by creating a fair, healthy, and sustainable food system that is accessible to everyone. However only 40.4% of young people indicated that they do know what help and support is available in their local community if they need help in accessing food.’

One action listed for decision makers to consider was for the availability of Young Scot discounts. A Young Scot Membership[36] allows young people to apply for a National Entitlement Card (NEC) between the age of 11 and 25. This allows holders to access a range of discounts and rewards and to access school lunches in many areas.

Young Scot supports young people to share their views, voices and opinions and recently carried out a survey of 1,000 young people aged between 11 and 25 called How is the current cost of living affecting you?’.[37] In response 34.2% stated they were moderately or very concerned about being able to afford or access food and 82.1% stated that a discount card would be useful for food purchases.

Research was undertaken by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland in 2016[38] to identify how food insecurity is understood by children between the ages of 5 to 11. Information provided was anecdotal: no specific percentage figures of the experiences of food insecurity were recorded.

It was established that children across all of the sessions identified money as the most significant reason why some children may not have the food they need. Some children made the link between not having enough money and using food banks.[39]

Children also expressed awareness and understanding of the role of food banks as a potential coping mechanism for a family in difficulty, demonstrating the speed at which food banks have become institutionalised in Scotland. Not all children felt that food banks were a fair solution. All children agreed that children have a right to food, but acknowledged that there are many barriers to making rights a reality.[40]

The children were perceptive and aware that issues around food insecurity affected all children, but they also highlighted particular groups who should be more involved in decision making, including those who are homeless and disabled children.[41]

3.1 - Responses to consultation on draft Plan

Over 400 respondents shared their views on the draft Plan through an online consultation and series of direct experience workshops between 20 October 2021 and 25 January 2022.[42] While no direct contact was made with children and young people through the consultation, responses were received from a wide range of organisations representing their interests[43] including:

  • Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. [44]
  • Child Poverty Action Group for Scotland.[45]
  • Children’s Health Scotland.[46]
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Scotland.[47]
  • Save the Children.[48]
  • Youth Link.[49]

Children’s rights organisations also had a role in shaping the strategic policy development, including through the Steering Group on Ending the Need for Food Banks and direct experience reference group.

Ten direct experience workshops were conducted within the consultation publication period. The direct impact of child poverty was articulated by attendees whose feedback and suggestions for mitigation activities mirrored the wider views of consultation respondents. Attendees of the workshops included people with no recourse to public funds and asylum seekers, highlighting the particular challenges for this type of household, including children and young people.

The proposed Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan was welcomed and participants agreed that the Plan should align with it and wider policy objectives including the Good Food Nation ambition. There was also strong support across the consultation response to incorporate the Right to Food into Scots Law.

Feedback contained within the consultation analysis highlighted the positive effect of a cash-first approach during the pandemic when restrictions were in place and throughout the recovery period. This included the importance of alternatives to free school meal provision for low income households which was provided as cash payments, food vouchers and meals, the value of which varied across local authorities from £10-20 per week. Take-up by parents was noted to have increased if provision was via a cash payment. Families experiencing food insecurity should have choice in how their needs are best met, to deliver better results.[50]

3.2 - Identify any gaps in the evidence base, and set out how you will address these

No specific breakdown into age ranges is collected for children and young people aged between 0 -16 for the Scottish Health Survey, Family Resources Survey or Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2019-2022[51]. Data collected by the Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network also does not breakdown into specific age ranges.

We will monitor these gaps by:

  • continuing to undertake a national measurement of food insecurity through the Scottish Health Survey and the Family Resources Survey;
  • partnering with food bank networks to monitor impact on number of food banks and parcel demand, and with community food networks to understand wider impact on non-parcel provision;
  • commissioning independent evaluation of funded activities, both from the perspective of frontline practitioners and people seeking support, and disseminating local good practice examples; and
  • exploring the integration of food insecurity measurement in the evaluation of income-boosting measures like the Scottish Child Payment and through exploration of a Minimum Income Guarantee.



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