Overview of Food Aid Provision in Scotland

This reports on a small-scale study of the food aid landscape in Scotland which mapped food parcel services and 'soup kithen' providers across eight locations in Scotland. Insights into their operations, monitoring systems and client base are presented alongside an exploration of

the potential for monitoring scale and demand and the extent to which figures published by the Trussell Trust are representative of the Scotland wide situation.

1 Executive Summary

1.1 It has been estimated that more than 500,000 people in the UK are reliant on emergency food aid[1]. However, in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, determining the exact scale of food aid provision and the dynamics of its demand remains problematic. In part this is due to the diverse and often informal nature of food aid providers.

1.2 This report presents findings from a scoping study commissioned by the Scottish Government, conducted in September 2013. The study's aim was to provide insight into the extent of food aid provision in Scotland and understand more about food aid providers' operations, monitoring systems and client bases. An additional aim was to explore the extent to which figures published by the Trussell Trust, a large network of providers of foodbanks, are representative of the Scotland-wide situation. A final aim was to examine the potential for monitoring the impact of welfare reform on food aid demand and provision.

1.3 The types of food aid that were the main focus of this study were provision of food parcels and provision of meals. Those providing food parcels included organisations operating a formal referral system, such as Trussell Trust foodbanks[2], and more informal services encompassing also those who provide food parcels on an ad hoc basis as part of other charitable operations. Those providing meals included any place where free soup, sandwiches or hot meals are available, such as at hostels/day centres/community cafes. The term 'soup kitchens' has been used to collectively refer to such provision, although it is acknowledged that some of these places would not describe themselves as 'soup kitchens' per se.

1.4 The provision of free school meals, state-provided food vouchers for disadvantaged mothers of babies and small children, and 'meals on wheels' services available for free to people over 65 who need personal care were excluded. Free meals provided in rehabilitation centres and supported accommodation were also excluded.

1.5 The study covered eight selected locations: Glasgow City, Dundee City, Inverness, Fort William, Stirling, Falkirk, Kirriemuir and Forfar.

Key Findings

1.6 Provision - Food aid provision in Scotland is delivered by three key types of organisations: local independent organisations; larger national organisations, such as the Salvation Army and the Missionaries of Charity; and finally, churches operating a Trussell Trust foodbank franchise. Most food aid providers have a connection with a religious institution. Several providers offer both food parcels and hot meals.

1.7 Table 1 shows that 55 providers of food aid were identified across the eight locations covered by the study. Between them, these 55 providers delivered 36 food parcel services and 38 meals services.

Table 1: Food aid provision across the eight study locations

Number of food aid providers
Location Total Providing food parcels Providing meals
Glasgow City 35 26 27
Dundee City 12 3 9
Inverness 1 1 0
Fort William 1 1 0
Stirling 2 2 1
Falkirk 2 2 1
Kirriemuir 1 1 0
Forfar 1 1 0
Total 55 36 38

1.8 Trussell Trust foodbanks form only a part of the food parcel provision in Glasgow City but are substantial providers of food parcels in Dundee, Kirriemuir/Forfar and Falkirk and the sole providers in Inverness. They will also be the sole providers for the Fort William area when a new Trussell Trust foodbank opens in Lochaber in October 2013.

1.9 Who is using food aid? The study's findings suggest that 'soup kitchens' in Scotland are used mainly by homeless people who also tend to have long-standing issues, such as substance dependency or poor mental health. Foodbanks are mainly used by people who are housed but who have little or no income.

1.10 Unlike other locations, Glasgow City also has a third category of clients: destitute migrants. This group tends to be homeless or threatened with homelessness and mainly comprises asylum seekers whose application for asylum has been rejected. Destitute migrants use both foodbanks and 'soup kitchens'.

1.11 Users of Trussell Trust foodbanks are to some extent different from the profile of people using non-Trussell Trust affiliated foodbanks and food parcel services. The Trussell Trust has more clients experiencing a one-off crisis and fewer clients who have long-standing issues. This difference is more marked between Trussell Trust foodbanks and 'soup kitchens'.

1.12 The study's findings suggest that it would not be possible to produce a Scotland-wide demographic profile of the client base for food parcel services or 'soup kitchens'.

1.13 Growth in demand - Increased demand has been observed by all providers interviewed for this study (food parcel services and 'soup kitchens'). The study's findings suggest that the substantial rise in the number of clients experienced by Trussell Trust foodbanks between October 2012 and October 2013[3] is broadly indicative of the trend observed by other food parcel providers who participated in the study and, therefore, is likely to be broadly reflective of the situation across Scotland. Our findings suggest that future Trussell Trust data can be extrapolated (with some caution) onto other food parcel providers.

1.14 Although 'soup kitchens' that participated in the study also observed a growth in demand, Trussell Trust data should not be generalised onto this type of food provision due to its different client base profile.

1.15 Reasons for demand - Providers who participated in the study were in agreement that welfare reform, benefit delays, benefit sanctions and falling incomes have been the main factors driving the recent trend observed of increased demand for food aid. The findings suggest that Trussell Trust data on the chief reasons for referrals are largely representative of what has been happening nationally for other food parcel providers.

1.16 Monitoring scale and changing provision nationally - Monitoring the number of food parcels and cooked meals given out across Scotland would be possible, although regular updates would be required due to the rapidly changing landscape. It would be more challenging to determine precisely the total number of unique individuals supported, as only some providers record the client's household size and whether the client is a 'repeat user' .

1.17 Monitoring the impact of welfare reform on food aid - Only Trussell Trust foodbanks systematically undertake detailed monitoring. It would be difficult to 'sign up' non-Trussell Trust providers to undertake this kind of monitoring, as collecting such data would be an additional burden on them while being of no obvious benefit to their operations. Providing an incentive may overcome this barrier enabling collection of data with added precision regarding more 'traditional' clients who have long-standing issues.


1.18 The findings suggests that Trussell Trust data is a good indicator of general provision and demand trends and reasons for demand experienced by other providers of food parcels. This means that there may not be substantial added value in going beyond Trussell Trust data. If a greater degree of precision is required to understand the reasons for using non-Trussell Trust affiliated food parcel services, the recommended approach would be to conduct a regular 'snapshot' survey on a sample of clients from selected 'key providers'.

1.19 The Trussell Trust data is not regarded as sufficiently representative of the provision, demand and drivers of demand for those using 'soup kitchens'. If a greater understanding of the impact of welfare reform on this specific group of food aid clients is required, this would best be achieved through a small-scale study involving interviews with managers of 'soup kitchens'.

1.20 If a more in-depth understanding of the impact of welfare reform on demand is required (e.g. exactly which parts of the reform lie behind the rise in demand), the recommended approach would be to conduct a small study composed of focus groups / interviews with beneficiaries of food aid and with food aid providers.


Email: Justine Geyer

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