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.

Part A – Taking Action

Our human rights approach

The Scottish Government is committed to respecting and fulfilling human rights and that includes the right to food. As part of the right to an adequate standard of living, people need to be able to access food that meets their dietary, social and cultural needs.

We recognise that the main reason why some people are compromising on food is insufficient and insecure incomes. Increasingly, when someone experiences financial hardship, a referral to a food bank is often the simplest route to meeting their immediate needs. While the compassion shown is commendable, we are clear that food banks are not an appropriate or long term response to poverty. Where they are the first or only port of call, opportunities to strengthen income and prevent future hardship can be missed.

There is shared consensus across Scotland, including among food banks and other food aid providers, that a human rights approach is needed to ensure that everyone can afford an adequate diet. This will require all of us to take co-ordinated rights-based steps to improve the response to crisis, as well as preventative actions to secure household incomes for the longer term.

The diagram below summarises our human rights approach:

Scottish Government approach to tackling food insecurity


Strengthening incomes from:

  • fair work
  • social security and
  • reduced cost of living


Making food banks the last port of call in a crisis by improving access to:

  • emergency financial assistance
  • money advice
  • holistic support services

Everyone has a sufficient and secure income to be able to access food that meets their needs and preferences. Where help to access food is required, this is provided in a way that maximises dignity and reduces future need.

Action so far

In 2015 the Scottish Government established an Independent Working Group to provide advice on tackling food insecurity. The Group's Dignity Report contained 19 recommendations, underpinned by a set of Dignity Principles. Significant progress has been made on these priorities which have helped to develop and strengthen the delivery of our human rights approach to food insecurity.

Major steps have been taken by the Scottish Government to increase incomes by promoting fair work and improving the value of social security, notably through bold measures such as the Scottish Child Payment and the real living wage. Our investments have also helped to reduce household costs across a range of services – including childcare, housing and healthcare, as well as free school meals, bus travel, digital devices and period products.

We have improved the response to crisis, including by protecting the Scottish Welfare Fund and working with community food organisations to put dignity at the heart of their activities. We were the first nation in the UK to routinely measure food insecurity and have strengthened our evidence base on what works.

Our Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 set out a high-level framework for our food system, and we will soon consult on our Human Rights Bill which will incorporate four international human rights treaties into Scots Law subject to devolved competence. We have made tackling child poverty a national mission and have published two delivery plans, backed by significant investment, to drive progress towards our statutory targets.

The Scottish Government's ambition is for a Scotland without the need for food banks, and this is a view shared by the two largest food bank networks in Scotland. Both the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network have stated their commitment to working towards ending the need for their services. Last year, our consultation on a draft plan on ending the need for food banks indicated strong support for this ambition from a wide range of stakeholders, including from food banks and people with direct experience of using their services. An independent analysis of consultation responses found broad agreement around the importance of cash-first responses to crisis and the need for measures to boost incomes, and this is reflected through the actions in this Plan. Respondents also asked for clear timescales and adequate resource to deliver.

Action So Far


  • Jun 2016 Dignity – Ending Hunger Together in Scotland
  • 2016 Dignity in Practice Project established


  • 2017 A Menu for Change Project launched
  • Sep 2017 First food insecurity data in Scottish Health Survey


  • 2018 – 2022 First Investing in Communities Fund
  • Mar 2018 First Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Every Child, Every Chance
  • Sep 2018 First Good Food Nation Programme of Measures
  • Nov 2018 Poverty and Inequality Commission advice on food insecurity in the school holidays


  • Mar 2019 First food insecurity data in Family Resources Survey
  • Aug 2019 Best Start Foods launched
  • Oct 2019 A Menu for Change, Found Wanting Report


  • 2020 IFAN cash-first leaflet project established; British Red Cross Scottish Crisis Fund established; Targeted holiday payments and meals introduced
  • 2020-21 Flexible local authority funding to tackle food and financial insecurity
  • 31 Jan 2020 EU Exit
  • Feb 2020 First Scottish Child Payment
  • Feb 2020 Trussell Trust strategy commits to working towards ending the need for food banks
  • Investments during the pandemic (Including payments in lieu of free school meals; flexible funding to local authorities for cash-first activity)
  • Spring 2020 Pandemic
  • Apr 2020 First guidance on responding to food insecurity during the pandemic
  • May 2020 Trussell Trust State of Hunger Reports


  • 2021-22 Winter Support Fund
  • Jan 2021 Govan Community Project report on food access for people seeking asylum
  • Jan 2021 Social Renewal Advisory Board Report
  • Feb 2021 Position Statement on Food Insecurity, Poverty and Human Rights
  • Feb 2021 Scottish Child Payment and bridging payments introduced
  • Jun 2021 Steering Group on Ending the Need for Food Banks established
  • Jun 2021 Scottish Child Payment and bridging payments introduced; Get in to Summer established
  • Oct 2021 Scottish Government report on local action on food insecurity during the pandemic; Scottish Government report on local responses to food insecurity during pandemic
  • Oct 2021 Consultation on draft plan on ending the need for food banks
  • Oct 2021 Shopping card pilot established
  • 2021 Rising cost of living
  • 2021 £20 cut to Universal Credit


  • Mar 2022 Second Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Best Start, Bright Futures
  • Apr 2022 Eight Scottish social security entitlements uprated by 6%
  • Jun 2022 SG report on local responses to food insecurity during pandemic
  • Jul 2022 Good Food Nation Act
  • Aug 2022 SPERI report on pandemic responses during Covid-19
  • Sep 2022 Cost of living website launched
  • Nov 2022 Scottish Child Payment increased to £25 p/w and eligibility extended


  • 2023-25 Investing in Communities Fund
  • Jan 2023 Cash-first winter hardship grants
  • 2023 Cash-first programme launch
  • Feb 2023 Scottish Welfare Fund Review Report


  • Key policy documents
  • Investments/Interventions
  • Research
  • Context

The challenge we face today

Despite these significant steps forward, tackling household food insecurity is a far greater challenge today than it was in 2015. The damage caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing negative economic impacts of a hard Brexit and UK policies, as well as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have all contributed to spiralling inflation, huge rises in energy prices and increasing costs for food and other essentials. This has created a cost of living crisis not seen in a generation.

While the inflationary uplift for a number of UK Government social security entitlements from April 2023 has been welcome, there is evidence that wider UK Government policies are contributing to destitution and pressure on food banks. Despite DWP data indicating that the £20 Universal Credit uplift may have contributed to a significant reduction in food insecurity for recipients, down from 43% in 2019-20 to 27% in 2020-21, the UK Government chose not to retain this uplift at a time when household costs and inflation were already rising. The built-in delays and sanctions can leave people without any money at all, and this is worse still for people who have No Recourse to Public Funds.

Demand for food banks has increased considerably across the UK. The Trussell Trust's annual data show a record 259,744 emergency food parcels were given out by their network in Scotland in 2022-23 – a 30% increase compared to 2021-22. The sustained demand has at times led to food banks reporting that they may run out of food, and many have had to reduce the size of the parcels they provide. We know people tend to only seek a parcel at times of extreme need and the Trussell Trust has identified that 95% of people referred to their food banks are destitute.

The Scottish Government recognises the pressure on household budgets and is making different choices with the limited powers and fixed budget we have. That is why in both 2022-23 and 2023-24, we have allocated almost £3 billion to support policies which tackle poverty and to protect people as far as possible during the ongoing cost of living crisis. This includes measures that do not exist elsewhere in the UK such as the Scottish Child Payment. The Trussell Trust suggest that Scottish Government action is having a positive impact, and that the extension of Scottish Child Payment eligibility to under-16s and increase in value to £25 per week – a 150% increase – may have helped to slow the pace of demand on their network. Scotland saw a smaller increase in the number of parcels provided for children in the second half of the year (November 22 – March 23) compared with the rest of the UK (a 17% increase in Scotland compared to 42% in England).

Despite our commitment to driving forward changes to help tackle poverty, inflation has also affected our own budget, which fell by 10% in real terms between 2021 and 2022. As a country and as a Government we face extraordinary challenges when it comes to tackling the cost of living crisis and supporting those most impacted.

Snapshot of who is most impacted

  • People with NRPF
  • Younger people (under 25)
  • Disabled people
  • Minority ethnic households
  • Single adult households
  • Households with children
  • Tenants
  • Low income households

Responding now and the longer-term ambition

There has never been a more important time for action, grounded in human rights, to improve the support available to people when they face financial crisis. Anyone involved in responses to financial hardship will know the devastating impact that compromising on food can have, and in order to make a real difference, all of us must work together and grasp every opportunity for improvement.

This Plan details some of the targeted actions we will take together over the next three years, but the economic context remains fluid and we will likely need to do more. Our work will be guided by three overarching objectives.

The actions in this Plan seek to improve the response to crisis and start to reduce the need for emergency food parcels. They are an important step towards achieving our longer-term ambition of a Scotland without the need for food banks. We will continue to pursue this ambition to the fullest of our power and resources, and will maintain pressure on the UK Government to act accordingly.

Strengthen access to cash in a crisis

Integrate money advice to prevent future need

Maximise dignity and choice when food is provided



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