Cash-First - towards ending the need for food banks in Scotland: plan

This Plan "Cash-First: Towards Ending the Need for Food Banks in Scotland" sets out our human rights approach to tackling food insecurity and outlines nine collaborative actions we will take over the next three years to improve the response to financial hardship and start to reduce the need for emergency food parcels.

Ministerial Foreword

The Scottish Government's ambition is for a Scotland without the need for food banks. A Scotland where everyone has sufficient money to access the essentials they need with dignity and choice. Achieving this requires action by the Scottish Government and our partners to improve how we respond to financial hardship, and to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Food banks were initially set up to provide short-term support to people in an emergency. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government, it is disappointing that the need for food banks is now greater than ever. The current spiralling cost of living is forcing record numbers to make desperate decisions: cutting back on essentials; choosing between heating or eating; and turning to food banks to feed themselves and their families.

Poverty and the cost of living crisis is the biggest challenge facing this country - one that has been exacerbated by some of the UK Government's actions and inactions.

The safety net which social security provides has never been more important, and yet researchers, food charities, and independent experts have all repeatedly highlighted the damaging impacts of UK Government policies, welfare cuts, and lack of action to tackle the cost of living crisis in driving demand for food banks which have, for some people, become a necessary lifeline to ensure they can feed themselves and their families.

The Scottish Government takes a very different approach and we have pledged to use every power at our disposal to protect the vulnerable in our society – particularly as the cost of living crisis puts additional pressure on household budgets. We have pledged to continue to tackle poverty in all its forms and improve the life chances of people across our country, with our aim being to protect the people of Scotland as far as possible from the harm inflicted by UK Government policies and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

We have taken forward bold measures to boost incomes and protect households against food insecurity. We consider social security to be an investment in people and a means of alleviating poverty and that is why we uprated all of the benefits we deliver by 10.1% in April this year, ensuring our support keeps step with rising costs. Our unique Scottish Child Payment, one of five family Scottish Government benefits, offers financial support to families which is unparalleled across the UK and food banks suggest that this may have already helped to slow the pace of demand for their services in Scotland. But our support goes much wider than this, reaching households in need through mitigating UK government policies with Discretionary Housing Payments, and reducing the burden of council tax through our Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

While our deliberate focus on supporting people in need through our policy choices has boosted incomes and helped protect households against hardship, we do not have the full powers required to reverse the damaging impact of decades of UK Government decisions to truly end the need for food banks. Yet we can and must do more to reduce the need for their services.

At this challenging time, this Plan presents our long-term ambition for a Scotland without the need for food banks. It outlines some of the targeted steps we will collectively take over the next three years to move us closer to this by improving the response to financial hardship.

When someone faces financial crisis and needs immediate support to access essentials like food, the response should be fast, coordinated, and meet their needs with dignity and respect. Therefore this Plan, which the Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network describe as "unprecedented", makes clear our commitment to cash-first responses to food insecurity. The actions aim to ensure cash-first support is better coordinated, more accessible, and grounded in direct experience. They also build on learning from great examples of partnership working during the pandemic, and our ongoing action to tackle child poverty. This Plan will ensure we improve access to emergency payments alongside money advice and wider support to protect people in financial crisis.

While Scotland is the first part of the UK to commit to ending the need for food banks in the longer term, we need the UK Government to use their powers to take concerted action for this ambition to be realised, or Scotland needs the full powers of a normal nation to end poverty.

Until that time, as discussed at the Anti-Poverty Summit convened by the First Minister in May, we have further tough choices to make to ensure we support people in need and tackle inequalities. Poverty is neither accidental nor inevitable and the distressing levels of hunger and hardship that exist must be tackled. The Scottish Government will do that using our fixed budget and limited powers and taking forward a range of actions from those in Best Start, Bright Futures to those in this Plan, to ensure our focus on equality, opportunity and community is fully realised.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice



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