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.

3 About the Study

3.1 Reflecting the Scottish Government's interest in tackling poverty (Achieving Our Potential, 2008), a team of researchers from Heriot-Watt University were commissioned by the Government to conduct a scoping study of food aid provision in Scotland. The study's objectives were to:

  • Identify which organisations currently provide food aid in Scotland, their relative importance, their supply sources, their methods of operation and in what form they provide food aid and to whom. In particular:
    • Is the Trussell Trust a major player when the whole food aid landscape is taken into account? Is its client base typical?
    • How accurately do figures presented by the Trussell Trust represent what is happening with respect to food aid in Scotland?
  • Investigate how these organisations' logistics and operations in Scotland have evolved over the last few years.
  • Identify what data food aid providers currently collect on those who request food aid.
  • Identify what data food aid providers could collect routinely and reliably without placing an excessive burden on their resources and service provision.
  • Make recommendations on whether and how food aid provision and demand could be monitored in Scotland in the future, with a particular reference to how the monitoring activity could capture any impacts of welfare reform on the demand for and provision of food aid.

Research methods

3.2 The study focused on eight selected 'case study' locations: Glasgow City, Dundee City, Stirling, Falkirk, Fort William, Inverness, Kirriemuir and Forfar. These locations were chosen to reflect a varying scale (from large urban to small rural) and to cover various geographical areas of Scotland. Additionally, the first five locations were chosen because they have a high concentration of poverty as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. While less deprived than other cities and towns in the sample, Inverness was chosen to widen the geographical spread to include the Highlands & Islands.

3.3 In the initial stages of the project, the researchers sought to identify all food aid providers operating in the selected locales and subsequently contacted them with a request for an interview by telephone.

3.4 The interviews probed the respondents' supply sources, logistics and methods of operation (including developments in the last few years), the profile of their client base, their current monitoring systems and the scope for expanding such systems.

Scope and definitions

3.5 The study focused on 'food aid providers', meaning formal and informal food parcel providers, places where free meals are available, such as at hostels/day centres/community cafes, charities that redistribute food from food retailers, as well as organisations that provide food parcels and free meals on an ad-hoc basis (as part of other charitable operations). 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.

3.6 Throughout the report, the term 'foodbank' has been avoided unless it was a term that the food aid provider used to describe themselves (e.g. 'Glasgow SE Foodbank'). The logic behind this decision is that throughout the course of research a number of organisations were identified which operate an ad-hoc, small-scale food parcel provision and for which food aid is a minor rather than a major part of their overall function. It was considered that the term 'foodbank' would be misleading when referring to such providers as this term naturally brings connotations of a place for which food aid is the main function, and which provides such aid on a certain scale. Therefore, the term 'food parcel provider' is used most commonly throughout the report.

3.7 Similarly, the term 'soup kitchen' has been used as a short-hand for any place where free soup, sandwiches or hot meals are available. It is acknowledged that some of the places providing such a service would not describe themselves as 'soup kitchens' per se.

3.8 'Informal' providers are defined as those which do not require a formal referral from a professional or an institution, whereas 'formal' providers are regarded as those which only accept formally referred clients.

Study limitations

3.9 The study had three limitations. Firstly, as a scoping study, it did not cover the whole of Scotland, which meant that the national scale of food aid provision could not be determined.

3.10 Secondly the study was able to glean views of only a selection of the food aid providers in Glasgow City.

3.11 Thirdly, the food aid landscape seems to be very dynamic (particularly in Glasgow) and, therefore, it cannot be assumed that the number of food aid providers identified in each of the eight locations will remain valid, even within weeks of the publication of this report. Similarly, the volume of food provided and the number of clients may rise considerably (going beyond a seasonal peak at Christmas) even within a short time from when the report is published.


Email: Justine Geyer

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