Cash-First: Towards Ending the Need for Food Banks in Scotland Fairer Scotland Duty Impact Assessment

The Fairer Scotland Duty 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.

Part 2 - Evidence from frontline services

2.1 Local authorities

In guidance to local authorities in relation to funding to tackle financial insecurity in 2021/22,[11] the Scottish Government summarised the issues likely to be faced by those with protected characteristics and those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage. This guidance provided examples of tailored support put in place to reach these groups and encouraged an intersectional approach.

We considered the feedback provided from local authorities who delivered the Financial Insecurity Fund in winter 2020/21[12] and the Winter Support Fund in winter 2021/22.[13] These reports clearly highlighted the need for wider communication of supports available as a lack of knowledge was identified, during the COVID lockdowns in particular, when signposting was provided by a range of people, for example, food bank volunteers, school head teachers or social workers.

Targeted activity was in place to identify families on low incomes, many of whom were identified as being unaware of the support available, and including families who were above the income threshold for receiving low income benefits. They received additional financial support from the funds to boost their financial resilience, reducing the need to access emergency food aid. Monitoring returns indicated that over 70% of spend supported a cash-first approach.[14]

Triage pathways were implemented with money advice and income maximisation services co-located onsite or at local Citizens Advice Bureaux. These advice services proved vital to ensuring peoples income was fully reviewed and all appropriate benefits applied for. It also allowed officials to identify repeat clients and put additional support in place to drive down the need to access food banks. Some food banks also participated and signposted their service users to the local money advice centres when they identified possible need for support.

The Scottish Welfare Fund[15] was established in 2013 by the Scottish Government and provides a safety net for people on low incomes and in need of additional supports which may include access to food in an emergency situation. It is administered by all 32 Scottish local authorities and all households can apply for support from the fund. Since its launch, more than 420,000 individual households in Scotland have been helped with awards totalling more than £280 million.

Quarterly statistics are published[16] which show how many applications have been made to each local authority, how many awards they made and how much money they awarded. The statistics also show the different reasons for applications being made, how long it takes to process applications and the different types of households which apply. They also provide information on the numbers of decisions which are considered by local authorities under the review process.

2.2 Food banks

There is significant evidence that food banks are now increasingly being approached by people who had not previously accessed them.

The Independent Food Aid Network's (IFAN) most recent survey findings published on 16 May 2023[17] demonstrated the challenges faced by households in relation to food insecurity and the widening of existing inequalities with organisations seeing demand increase comparing January to March 2022 with January to March 2023. Over 89% of the organisations reported supporting a significant number of people needing help for the first time with over 81% needing regular support.

Statistics published in February 2023[18] reported an increase in parents and carers with infants under 12 months needing support, as well as people in employment.

Data published by the Trussell Trust between April 2022 and September 2022[19] highlighted that there are an increasing number of people experiencing hunger due to the cost of living crisis. A You Gov survey in August 2022[20] found that 40% of people in receipt of Universal Credit had skipped meals across the previous three months because they couldn't afford to eat and to keep up with other essential costs. Further, one in five (21%) people were unable to cook hot food as they couldn't afford to use the cooker, while almost a quarter (23%) were unable to travel to work or essential appointments because they couldn't afford the cost of public transport or fuel.

Similar to IFAN, the Trussell Trust reported that 13,000 families were "forced to turn to food banks in the Trussell Trust network for the first time". This represents a 36% increase in the number of families using food banks in the network for the first time compared to the same period in 2021. These families include close to 27,000 people. This is representative of increasing numbers of people experiencing hunger as a result of the cost of living crisis".[21]

Further data highlighted that 20% of people accessing food banks were in working households, which can include people in receipt of social security who will be working or have recently been in employment.[22] Trussell Trust have stated within their report that the first cost of living payment made in July 2022 did result in a reduction in food bank use however food banks recorded their "busiest ever August and September months" with research finding that people in receipt of Universal Credit had spent it all less than a month after receiving it, with 64% using some of the payment to purchase food.[23]

End year statistics published by the Trussell Trust for April 2022 to March 2023[24] showed "a smaller percentage increase in the number of parcels provided for children from November 2022-March 2023" with a 17% increase in Scotland compared to 42% in England. Trussell Trust suggest that the extension of the Scottish Child Payment to include eligible children up to age 16, and the £5 increase to £25 a week, introduced in November 2022, may have had an impact.

The Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Essentials Guarantee research[25] states that the erosion of benefit rates "has been a significant driver of an alarming rise in destitution and increasing numbers of people going without essentials, including people higher up the income distribution", and advocates that "the basic rate of Universal Credit should at least cover the cost of essentials like food, household bills and travel costs, but it is not currently set according to any objective assessment of what people need. That means there's a significant shortfall between people's living costs and their income, which is forcing many to skip meals, switch off essential appliances such as fridges, and turn off their heating."

The Trussell Trust's State of Hunger Report notes that "food insecurity is not about lacking food - it is about lacking income to buy food."[26] It stated that "the socio-demographic profiles of people who report food insecurity and people who were referred to food banks were very similar".[27] The report states that "95% of people referred to food banks in early 2020 were destitute meaning they can't afford the essentials that we all need".[28]

One recommendation from this report is for "people's pathways or journeys into food banks to move towards identifying where intervention and support could help to prevent a food bank being needed".[29]

2.3 Advice services

Last year, the Scottish Government worked with Citizens Advice Scotland to pilot the use of shopping cards as an alternative to food bank referrals to allow people to choose food that meets their needs and preferences, with advice offered to help tackle the root cause of hardship. An evaluation of the pilot indicated that people have a strong preference for shopping cards compared to food parcels in most areas.[30] The co-location of money advice and wider holistic support has helped to strengthen household finances, with an average financial gain of £1,660 for those who took up advice.

At all three reporting periods during the pilot, the top reason for need of support was low income (on benefits). The second highest reason at the outset of the pilot was low income (in work) however this was replaced by debt for the following two reporting periods. This evaluation highlighted the challenges faced by socio-economically deprived households.

2.4 Research publications

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published the Poverty in Scotland report in October 2022 . It states that "Almost one in five low-income families are neither heating nor eating and 18% of low income households have skipped or reduced the size of meals and not heated their home due to the cost of living crisis. Over one in four (27%) households that do not have savings have done the same".[31]

The report also states that as households have had to cut back to save on the cost of food, people have relied more heavily on food banks. Of all households who have cut back or reduced spending, 7% have accessed a food bank. This rises for single parents (12%), minority ethnic families with children (13%) and low-income families (10%). Three in twenty households that had skipped meals or reduced the size of meals have also accessed a food bank.[32]

A report published by the Health Foundation and Resolution Foundation in January 2023 found that "23% of those receiving means-tested or disability benefits are severely food insecure this winter, up from 4% pre-pandemic. Similarly, rates of food insecurity are much higher among families with three or more children, single parent families, and among certain non-white ethnic groups." Challenges were also reflected within home tenure with "Social renters […] almost twice as likely as those living in other tenures to say that they could not afford to switch the heating on when needed this winter (45 % compared with 19% for those who own their home outright)."[33]

This report indicates that levels of debt are increasing with "rises in the price of essentials […] making some families' budgets unsustainable, and debts are starting to accumulate, particularly among low-income households"[34] It is "workers in low-income families who are most likely to be going into debt". [35]

The data presented above evidences a clear link between low income, food insecurity and food bank use.



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