Dignity: Ending Hunger Together in Scotland

Report of the Independent Working Group on food poverty.

This document is part of a collection

4: Respond

The measures set out above will help more households to be food secure, and will reduce the number of income crises caused by social security administration. We would hope to see a return to pre-recession levels of food insecurity.

However, many households will still be struggling against poverty in Scotland, and income crises will still occur. When people do face acute food insecurity they should get the dignified help they need.

If people are eligible for a cash grant this should be the first option. Alongside this, and when cash is not an option, people should have readily available and dignified access to food.

The next section looks at how the community food sector can collectively improve dignified access to food, both in an emergency and as part of building inclusive and supportive communities.

In this section we look more narrowly at what should happen for households which have run out of money to buy food and are facing hunger.

4.1 Cash First

As a general principle, households facing hunger due to an acute income crisis should be provided with cash to buy the food they need immediately. This will not resolve underlying issues but provides the most dignified response to people who are destitute.

We welcome the approach that Scottish Government and local authorities have taken to the development and promotion of the Scottish Welfare Fund. At the same time, evidence [45] suggests that foodbank users are not always aware of the Scottish Welfare Fund. We believe more needs to be done both locally and nationally to promote the Fund and the circumstances in which individuals and households facing a food crisis might be eligible for support from it.

Scottish Welfare Fund

The Scottish Welfare Fund is a national scheme, underpinned by law (The Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015) and delivered on behalf of Scottish Government by all 32 local authorities.

It replaces elements of the Social Fund abolished by the Department for Work and Pensions ( DWP) in 2013 and aims to provide a safety net to vulnerable people on low incomes by the provision of Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants.

Crisis Grants made under the scheme aim to help people facing a disaster or emergency.

  • A disaster might mean a fire or a flood.
  • An emergency, for example, running out of food, might be caused by a sudden loss of income.

Section 5 of the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act requires applicants for grants to be treated with dignity:

"In exercising its functions under sections 1 to 3, or any regulations under section 4, a local authority must take reasonable steps to ensure
(a) that applicants for assistance in pursuance of section 2 are treated with respect, and
(b) that their dignity is preserved."

The Scottish Government publishes statistics [46] on the administration of the fund every quarter. Latest figures to December 2015 show that:

There are around 140,000 applications per year for a Crisis Grant, of which over half are repeat applications. Applications increased by 25% between 2013/14 and 2014/15 and have now levelled off.

Just over 100,000 (around 72% of applications) are approved, with an average award value of around £70. More than half of all applications are on the grounds of "emergency - benefit/income spent".

About £4m of the £7.8m provided for Crisis Grants last year was spent on food - up by more than 60% between 2013/14 and 2014/15.

Ninety eight per cent of Crisis Grant applications were dealt with in two days. Applicants subject to a suspension, disallowance or sanction by DWP can apply for Crisis Grants in the same way as any other applicant.

Fifty three per cent of applicants are male, and 47% female. More than 50% of the spending on Crisis Grants is in the 20% of most deprived geographical areas.

Most local authorities spend close to 100% of their budget. Some have used their own funds to top up their Scottish Government allocation where needed.

North Lanarkshire Food Poverty Referral Pathway

The North Lanarkshire Food Poverty Referral Pathway was developed by North Lanarkshire Council together with partners from health, the third sector, advice agencies, a number of foodbanks and other food initiatives.

It was agreed that when someone presents in food crisis, the first port of call should not be "a food parcel" but maximisation of income through the Scottish Welfare Fund. The Fund acts as the hub of the pathway. This ensures that all those who would otherwise have been referred direct to a foodbank receive a full assessment of needs, are able to access welfare rights, money advice or any other relevant information service to assist long term with the cause of the crisis, together with, where appropriate, either a Crisis Grant award or a foodbank referral.

Recognising that not all applicants to the Scottish Welfare Fund receive an award, the pathway is designed to ensure everyone receives a positive outcome, whether in the form of a grant and help with the cause of the crisis, or a food parcel and help with the cause of the crisis.

Since commencing operation in April 2015, there is evidence that the pathway is having a positive impact for some people with the number of food parcels being provided by participating foodbanks starting to decline (an 11.5 % decrease in demand for the same April to July period in 2015 as in 2014 and a 9% increase in Crisis Grant applications for the same period).

Whilst these can't as yet be directly correlated, the partners involved believe the referral pathway is having the desired effect. Concerns around waiting times for Scottish Welfare Fund assessment are being addressed. In the circumstance a claim has to wait until the next day, Scottish Welfare Fund staff are advised to make a referral to a foodbank or other food provider. Other priorities for the partners include improving uptake of free school meals and breakfast clubs and maximising volunteering, employability and training gains for priority groups.

When individuals and households present as facing acute food insecurity they should be offered both a full income maximisation check to ensure they are in receipt of the statutory financial support they are entitled to and assessed by the local Scottish Welfare Fund to establish their eligibility for a Crisis Grant. This should, ideally, be undertaken through a single referral/point of contact.

We are aware of a number of initiatives across Scotland which are pioneering new approaches, including in Fife, North Lanarkshire (see above) and West Lothian. Although different in emphasis, each approach has sought to increase the awareness and accessibility of current welfare provision and they are committed to income maximisation in a complex and constantly evolving environment. At this stage we have not felt able to identify one single model of best practice.

At present take up of the Fund is uneven across Scotland. An increased focus on the Scottish Welfare Fund as a primary means for addressing acute food insecurity could lead to an increase in demand, at least in the short-term. We, therefore, urge the Scottish Government to ensure that the Scottish Welfare Fund is increased in value if needed.

Sometimes the crisis cannot be resolved by a Crisis Grant or benefits check and a referral to a food provider is still needed. Local authorities should work with their partners to ensure effective coordination between the Scottish Welfare Fund and food providers (for example, in relation to opening hours) to ensure that people can access food in a straightforward, timely and dignified way.

The dramatic growth in food aid over recent years reflects the huge concern of people across society for those struggling to afford food for themselves and their families. This growth includes a wide range of new and established organisations, from small faith-based groups to large housing associations.

Many of these are completely volunteer-run and operate almost entirely on donations of time and food. [47] The compassion, goodwill and concern which underpin this growth are to be celebrated. They are a sign of so much that is good about Scottish society.

However, foodbanks also face a number of significant organisational and practical challenges, including limited volunteers and donations, as well as a lack of control over the quality and quantity of food that they receive. [48]

In the current situation, foodbanks and other food aid providers are responding to clear and pressing needs. In the short term they should work collaboratively to ensure dignity is maximised whilst delivering a reliable and effective service to the people who rely on them. But, as we have insisted throughout our report, they are not, and must not become, a long term solution to hunger.

Evidence from Canada, where foodbanks have been an established model of provision for more than 30 years, shows that they do not and cannot tackle food insecurity, but instead tend to institutionalise and normalise it.

Over the lifetime of this Parliament, we hope to see a continuing shift towards models of food provision that are more embedded in communities and the eradication of the need for foodbanks. How we propose to do this is described further in Section Five (Invest).

We propose activities in the short term which will encourage that transition:

  • Improve connections with other community activities. Sharing a meal in a communal setting, engaging in volunteering, and connecting with other community-based activities have the potential to reduce social isolation and harness the important community development role of food. Improving linkages between emergency food aid and wider community activities is important to help people access a range of support and opportunities.
  • Build the voice of food aid providers in Scotland. Many hold strong views that food aid cannot and should not become an established part of the social security system. [49] We should listen to the wisdom and experience of those involved in providing food aid, the majority of them volunteers. We need to develop their collective advocacy and campaigning role, alongside people experiencing food poverty, in challenging the structural drivers of food insecurity and hunger.
  • Support food aid providers to learn from each other and work closely with other local services.

4.2 More Than Calories

Published data on the quality of diet experienced by those experiencing food poverty in Scotland is limited. [50] We do know, however, that individuals and families struggling with household food insecurity report resorting to missing meals and buying cheaper foods, and that the consumption of fruit and vegetables is lower. [51]

Cheaper foods tend to be more highly processed and higher in fat, sodium and sugar exacerbating health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. [52]

Although considerable efforts are made by foodbank providers, it is recognised that the food provided can be low in nutritional value.

There is no lack of high quality food in Scotland, and a more dignified response to food poverty means that people in immediate need ought to have access to food which other people would also value.

One way in which this may be able to be achieved is through creating closer connections between emergency food aid providers and those dealing with surplus food within the manufacturing and retail sectors.

In making this suggestion, and building on the good work already being undertaken through organisations such as FareShare and Centrestage, we would want to be clear that more effective food redistribution can only be a very small part of an essential response to radically reduce surplus food and food waste.

Case Studies: FareShare & Centrestage


Last year FareShare redistributed over 1,000 tonnes of surplus food across Scotland supporting over 370 different charities and community organisations and providing over 2.4 million meals.

Fareshare takes surplus, safe, quality food from the food industry and redistributes it to frontline services. These range from homeless shelters and hostels, day centres, domestic violence refuges, rehabilitation units, old people's centres, to breakfast and after school clubs and community food initiatives and foodbanks. Most are providing hot cooked food, meals and snacks to share at the centre of their activities, such as Victoria After School Club.

"Most children who come along to our service are heavily in the poverty bracket which affects their health and diet. With our weekly delivery of food from FareShare we are able to provide healthy snacks to the children and introduce them to foods they may never have tried. We cook with the children and recipes are provided to take home. We were finding it increasingly difficult to provide healthy food for the children whilst keeping our childcare costs affordable for families to re-train or seek employment. FareShare has allowed us to work towards helping others to get out of poverty and into employment whilst improving the health of the children." Moira MacDonald, Manager, April 2016.

In addition to redistributing food, FareShare provides support and training opportunities for the many volunteers that work in its four regional centres. FareShare volunteers may be vulnerable young people on a road to employment or further training or people with experience of homelessness and long term unemployment or chronic mental or physical health issues.


The Catalyst Communities project, delivered by Centrestage Communities based in Kilmarnock, uses music and surplus food to bring people together to catalyse the energy of communities across Ayrshire. People from across each area, of all ages and backgrounds, come together to sing, to cook, to play, to share advice or to just talk. Then, after meeting socially, participants eat together. Meals are prepared by volunteer cooks identified from within the community and further opportunities are provided across Centrestage for community members to participate in activities and develop new strengths and skills. All services are received on a "pay it forward" basis, where all beneficiaries donate what they can to support the delivery of this model of dignified food provision developed by Centrestage.

Strategically redistributing surplus food, wrapping each area in support that has the arts and conversation at the heart of every meal dignifies the help given and builds community capacity. Working in partnership with Fareshare, Centrestage Communities has redistributed 15 tonnes of surplus food since January 2016, equating to over 50,000 portions.

It is clear that we need an overall culture shift whereby people from all income bands are enabled to access surplus food at a discount. As such we welcome the Scottish Government's recent commitment to reduce food waste in Scotland by 33% by 2025. [53] To achieve this will require a range of actions to design out food waste as well as changing expectations and habits across society.

Sourcing surplus food from suppliers and retailers is of course only one option for community food providers which include not just foodbanks but also community cafes, drop-in centres, day centres, soup kitchens, after school clubs, breakfast clubs, family centres and faith groups. Scotland's farmers produce more than enough food for everyone, and some community food organisations have established direct buying links to source produce at a fair price from farmers.

We should also recognise the social value of food. Over the long term someone to eat with may be as important as something to eat for isolated individuals and families.


14. The Scottish Government, along with local authorities and all those responding to acute food insecurity, should ensure widespread use of the Scottish Welfare Fund as the first port of call for emergency support and ensure the fund is administered in a way that allows this.

15. If demand for the Scottish Welfare Fund grows, the Scottish Government should increase investment in it accordingly.

16. Community food providers (including those providing food in an emergency) should work together to improve the quality of the food provided and create opportunities to enable the sharing of meals, the provision of choice, and culturally appropriate nutritious food.


Email: Graeme MacLennan

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