Mapping Organisations Responding to Food Insecurity in Scotland

Research commissioned by the Scottish Government to provide a snapshot of where and how organisations are responding to food insecurity in Scotland.


Key findings

  • This research identified 744 organisations providing free or subsidised food via 1,026 venues.
  • A variety of organisations in Scotland are responding to food insecurity through the provision of free or subsidised food, including third sector support organisations, charities, faith organisations, development trusts, food banks, food pantries, social enterprises, community cafes, shops and food growing projects. Responses were also received from a range of public sector organisations responding to food insecurity, including local authorities, health and social care providers, social landlords, schools, social services and criminal justice practitioners.
  • Around a third of organisations reported participating in a coordinating network, including regional/community food networks, national coordinating/campaign groups, local poverty action groups, local authority networks and NHS initiatives.
  • Organisations reported multiple inward referral routes to accessing their food provision.
  • Nearly three quarters of organisations reported that people accessing their support could receive food without requiring an inward referral. Just over one third of organisations reported requiring an inward referral from an external organisation, and around a quarter reported that people could refer themselves or be referred by a family member or friend. The organisations requiring an inward referral from an external organisation reported a range of inward referrers, including social work, health services, community organisations, housing associations, family support organisations and mental health organisations.
  • A minority of organisations stated that there were restrictions beyond referral pathways to accessing their food provision. The main restrictions reported were geographic location or food provision limited to targeted service user groups. Many organisations reported that they would provide support to people in obvious crisis outside of their standard referral process or service restrictions.
  • Over three quarters of organisations reported that they provide activities and services alongside the provision of food. Among these organisations, almost one third reported providing social activities, events and befriending, and almost another third reported providing advice and support (e.g. in relation to money and housing).
  • Organisations reported various ways in which their venues are providing free or subsidised food. Almost half of all venues were providing a cooked meal eaten at the venue, and just over a third were providing pre-prepared food parcels.
  • Among the organisations providing food parcels, almost all were providing ambient foods, just under half were providing fresh food and around a fifth were providing frozen food.
  • Just over half of all venues were providing free or subsidised food on each weekday (Monday – Friday). However, there were markedly fewer venues providing food at weekends with just over a tenth providing food on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Over two fifths of venues were signposting (providing information about) to the SWF and just over a quarter were referring (supporting someone to access) on to the SWF.
  • Almost two thirds were signposting to advice services and other support providers and just over a third were referring to advice providers and other support providers.
  • Among the organisations who provided additional information about their onward referral practices, some organisations reported having dedicated support and advice workers in place while others reported that they would like to provide further support but had capacity barriers. Some organisations used this question to request information about the SWF.

Research limitations

Several limitations of this research have been identified, including:

  • The survey was open to all organisations, meaning that those who completed the survey were self-selecting.
  • Many organisations had limited resources and were volunteer-run which was sometimes a barrier to obtaining information. It was also not possible to verify the accuracy of information provided through the survey.
  • The nature of the sector means that information about services and contact details can change rapidly meaning that this work constitutes a snapshot only.
  • The survey was designed to be relevant and easy to complete by organisations with a variety of operating models. This presented some challenges in designing closed choice survey questions and in handling information from larger organisations providing free or subsidised food through multiple venues.
  • Exact duplications of survey responses were removed prior to data analyses. However, there remains the potential for some duplication of information due to joint working between multiple organisations and different people within the same organisation responding to the survey.


This research demonstrated evidence of a diverse range of organisations responding to food insecurity through the provision of free or subsidised food in Scotland.

Many organisations offered targeted support, with food provision a primary or secondary aim of their service. The organisations identified reported delivering a range of activities and services alongside food provision. This research also identified a variety of coordinated actions by food groups and other local and national networks.

This research has provided a comprehensive overview of organisations working to address food insecurity in Scotland to inform Scottish Government policies to tackle food insecurity.



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