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 B – Action Over the Next Three Years to Improve the Response to Crisis

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.

Ready access to emergency cash payments enables people to buy the food and other essentials that meet their needs and preferences. When emergency cash is provided alongside appropriate advice, people can be supported to ensure they are accessing all of their entitlements and helped to resolve any issues in order to prevent the crisis from happening again, for example by securing increased income from benefits. Once that immediate support is in place, appropriate referrals to wider support, including local community support, can help meet wider needs and reduce the isolation often caused by poverty. Moving towards cash-first in practice will take time, and where help to access food is still needed this should be provided in a way that maximises dignity and choice.

Working alongside and enabling our local partners, the Scottish Government will take forward nine actions over the next three years to help improve the response to crisis and reduce the need for emergency food parcels. We will work to share the learning from these new activities to support decision-making and service design among local authorities and their partners, as well as other national and local organisations, to tackle food insecurity collaboratively.

Action 1: We will support new local partnership work to deliver cash-first

Strengthened collaboration between the public and third sectors during the first years of the pandemic has already demonstrated that it is possible to improve access to cash in a crisis, and improve longer-term outcomes for those supported.

Case study. Argyll and Bute Council is working in partnership with advice services and the community food sector to deliver a new cash-first support that was initially established using Scottish Government pandemic response funding: the Flexible Food Fund. The Fund provides people who are struggling with essentials with two discretionary payments over a four-to-six-week period, alongside money advice and holistic support. More than 1,500 people have been helped so far, with an average financial gain of £1,300 beyond the value of the Flexible Food Fund payment.

Building on learning from this work, and other good practice, we will establish a new £1.8 million Cash-First Programme. Following a competitive process, funding and practical assistance will be awarded to up to eight area-based partnerships to strengthen cash-first responses to financial hardship, helping to reduce the need for emergency food parcels.

Each partnership will be provided with up to £200,000 over 24 months to recruit a coordinator and take forward improvement projects. Partnerships will receive support through a peer-learning programme which will also share good practice.

Linked to this, we will also work with partners, including Public Health Scotland, NHS Scotland and local authorities, to ensure robust pathways are in place locally to meet the particular needs of families with infants under 1 facing financial crisis. These pathways will build on existing good practice, maximising access to appropriate emergency help and wider advice and support, while reducing the need for food banks.

Action 2: We will expand testing of new models that provide immediate assistance

Last year, the Scottish Government worked with Citizens Advice Scotland and seven Citizens Advice Bureaux to pilot the use of shopping cards as an alternative to food bank referrals. Shopping cards are not a long-term solution to hunger and destitution; however, there is good evidence from this pilot that those who received a card found it a valuable crisis support, and that this helped to unlock access to wider entitlements. The shopping cards are provided as an immediate crisis response with proportionate eligibility and assessment processes. The aim is to complement but not replace existing statutory support such as the Scottish Welfare Fund where there is urgent need.

Case study. Bureaux advisors provided clients who would have been offered a food bank referral with the option of a card, alongside their wider holistic support offer. A total of 772 households were supported through this pilot with the majority receiving holistic advice and half of those benefitting financially – with an average of £1,630 financial gain. Those supported by cards expressed a strong preference for cards over a food parcel, with many reflecting on the dignity, choice and flexibility a card provided.

We will build on the learning to date through funding of £290,000 in 2023-24 for an expanded crisis response pilot with Citizens Advice Scotland and nine local bureaux. In particular, this will test the use of cash grants as an alternative to cards where locally appropriate, and will generate evidence on specific barriers to cash-first in rural and remote communities.

Action 3: We will improve access to advice in accessible settings

In 2023-24, we will invest over £11.7 million to support the delivery of free welfare, debt and income maximisation advice across Scotland. This includes investment in the Money Talk Team service, delivered by Citizens Advice Scotland and the Citizens Advice Bureau network.

We are also committed to increasing the availability of advice within services that people already access. To support this we are investing at least £3.5 million over this parliamentary term in Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships. These partnerships integrate welfare and debt advisers within GP surgeries, helping to reduce pressure on GPs and primary care services and allowing them to focus on clinical care while a dedicated adviser supports the individual to address their social and economic needs. We will build on the success of these partnerships and increase access to advice through investment of up to £2 million over two years in other accessible places including wider health settings, education and community settings.

Case study. The Trussell Trust will invest in six local test and learn pilot projects in Scotland to improve access to and engagement with advice services over the next two years, building on and complementing existing local services. These models will go beyond food bank advice provision – with community-led design to build in longer-term sustainability. In addition, Trussell Trust funded specialist advice services are now being provided in sixteen local authority areas in Scotland.

This will complement the significant local investment by local authorities in providing advice and work by partners, including the Trussell Trust.

Action 4: We will support wellbeing through community food approaches

Improving how we respond to food insecurity means taking action that meets immediate food needs whilst also considering the wider wellbeing of the whole household. Responding to crisis in a coordinated, person-centred way enables local services to promote dignity and improve outcomes for the longer term. Community food organisations have a clear role to play in promoting wellbeing and providing person-centred support to people experiencing food insecurity, including vital social contact.

We will provide direct funding to community and third sector organisations responding to food insecurity through our Investing in Communities Fund (ICF). ICF is a three-year fund being delivered from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2026 and will invest around £10 million each year in local organisations working to tackle poverty and inequality; developing place-based approaches; supporting community-led regeneration; and working to ensure a just transition to net zero. Through this fund we will support 31 organisations whose activities specifically include tackling food insecurity. We will engage with them to support learning and sharing of good practice in delivery of cash-first and dignified approaches.

We will provide funding of £50,000 this year for wider support through community food networks and Public Health Scotland who run Community Food and Health Scotland. Working together with these networks, we will pilot the use of cash-first tools to address food insecurity within community food settings. A further £25,000 will be allocated to the Scottish Pantry Network to provide training, advice and support to pantries within the network on how to increase access to cash-first and embed the Dignity Principles.

We will continue to provide funding of £315,000 in 2023-24 to FareShare in Scotland, which supports hundreds of community organisations to access high quality surplus food with an emphasis on community development and access to wider services. We will also support them to promote cash-first tools and the Dignity Principles throughout their network.

Action 5: We will continue to support cash-first models that are inclusive

We have provided funding totalling almost £880,000 over the past two years to the British Red Cross to provide crisis hardship support to people facing destitution. Through a network of referral partners, their Scottish Crisis Fund provides vital crisis cash support, as well as advice and advocacy to those most at risk of destitution in Scotland, including those who may be otherwise ineligible for government support.

We will continue to support the delivery of the Scottish Crisis Fund, through funding of £623,000 in 2023-24, to provide a route to crisis support that is inclusive of people with No Recourse to Public Funds. This links to the commitments outlined in our Ending Destitution Together Strategy.

We will also continue to engage with the Home Office, calling on them to improve support available to people with No Recourse to Public Funds, including allowing them to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Action 6: We will make it easier to refer to cash-first support

In order to make it easier for frontline workers to refer someone experiencing hardship to local cash-first support rather than a food bank, the Scottish Government has provided funding to the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) to develop cash-first referral leaflets and other practical resources. Locally tailored leaflets are now available in every local authority area in Scotland.

An independent evaluation published in June 2021 found that the leaflets were a useful tool for raising awareness of local sources of cash-first support amongst staff, volunteers and people experiencing hardship.

We will support IFAN with funding of £55,000 this year to increase the accessibility of the leaflets through additional translations and formats, and will work with partners to maximise their impact through earlier intervention points, including through Jobcentres and Social Security Scotland.

Action 7: We will maintain investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund and work with partners to produce an Action Plan to deliver improvements

The Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) provides discretionary local welfare assistance in the form of Crisis Grants to households experiencing financial hardship. The SWF budget for 2023-24 is £41 million: £35.5 million for grants and £5.5 million for administration. This is our leading source of cash-first emergency assistance, and food continues to be the most commonly awarded Crisis Grant item, with over 163,000 awards made in 2021-22 totalling £12.4 million.

Case study. North Lanarkshire Council has developed a referral gateway, encouraging local services and groups to refer people in need of crisis support to the Scottish Welfare Fund in the first instance. Through their recently launched Cash-First Pledge, organisations commit to working with the Scottish Welfare Fund and advice services to ensure cash-first support is in place alongside support to identify sustainable solutions to food insecurity.

The Scottish Government commissioned the Independent Review of the Scottish Welfare Fund, published in March 2023, which highlights the importance of the fund as a national safety net. To further strengthen this safety net, we will act on the findings of the Review and assess future sustainability of the Fund. We will take action to ensure grants are delivered consistently, effectively and efficiently. We have established a Policy Advisory Group to inform an action plan to make improvements to the Fund to ensure it continues to deliver for those in need.

Action 8: We will continue to listen to the direct experience of people

In March 2023, the Cross-Party Group on Poverty published a report on poverty-related stigma which recommended that policy-making is informed by people with direct experience of poverty, a recommendation that is already being delivered in relation to food insecurity policy.

The Scottish Government has funded Nourish Scotland and the Poverty Truth Community to facilitate a Dignity Peer Network. They deliver workshops and develop tools and resources on how to engage with the Independent Working Group's Dignity Principles on a practical level and have supported hundreds of organisations to place dignity at the centre of what they do. This includes advice on how to involve people in decision-making, how to develop projects that are welcoming and free from stigma, and how to celebrate the social role of food in building communities. In this way the project has helped improve practice in relation to the role communities have to play in responding to food insecurity.

We will continue to support the Dignity Peer Network of community food practitioners to share learning, experience and expertise about embedding the Dignity Principles into their daily work with funding of £55,000 in 2023-24. This will deliver awareness-raising and skill-sharing around cash-first approaches and sources of support.

We will continue to work with Govan Community Project and their community members to increase public awareness of the needs of people in the asylum process and help to maintain dignity when accessing community food supports. This will build on the report and tools developed by their Participatory Action Research group.

We will also continue to work with MECOPP and Gypsy/Traveller community members to increase their access to and involvement in the design of dignified responses to food insecurity, including through on-site pilot activities.

Over the next year we will invest a total of £100,000 in these inclusive projects, that also contribute to Action 5.

Action 9: We will work with other funders to put shared values into practice

Delivery of this Plan requires every organisation working in relation to food insecurity to pull together towards the same long term aim. There has been good progress over recent years in how third sector funders support food insecurity activity, particularly in relation to promoting good practice in cash-first responses.

Case study. The Scottish Government and the National Lottery Community Fund have provided the Corra Foundation with funding over the past two years to provide small grant awards to community groups to deliver cash-first support directly to people facing food insecurity and related financial hardship. Between November 2021 and February 2022, £750,000 was distributed to 174 community groups across Scotland, reaching over 21,000 people.

We will continue to work collaboratively with other funders, including the National Lottery Community Fund, Robertson Trust and Corra Foundation to put into practice shared values of human rights when funding projects that respond to food insecurity. This will involve learning from good practice on promoting principles of dignity and cash-first and reflecting on the challenges and opportunities for rights-based interventions posed by current needs brought about by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

As a first step, we will engage with funded organisations, the wider funding sector, and people with lived experience of food insecurity, to better understand their needs and priorities in order to strengthen rights-based action on food insecurity across Scotland.

Summary of the nine actions to improve response to crisis

  • Cash-First Programme
  • Testing new models
  • Advice in accessible settings
  • Wellbeing through community food
  • Scottish Crisis Fund
  • Cash-first leaflets and tools
  • Scottish Welfare Fund
  • Listening to direct experience
  • Human rights funding



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