Food insecurity and poverty - United Nations: Scottish Government response

Scottish Government position statement in response to a joint letter to the UK from the UN Special Rapporteurs responsible for food and poverty. It outlines Scotland’s human rights approach to the challenges of food insecurity and poverty, including actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Executive Summary


This Scottish Government position statement responds to concerns identified by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the right to food (Professor Michael Fakhri) and on extreme poverty and human rights (Professor Olivier De Schutter) in a joint communication sent to the UK Government in August 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteurs requested a formal response from the UK Government within 60 days and the text of their letter was subsequently made publicly available on the UN website in early October 2020[1]. To date the UK Government has, regrettably, still not responded to the UN.

This statement is therefore being published to put on record Scotland's distinctive approach to the human rights concerns raised by the two UN Special Rapporteurs. The statement outlines Scotland's approach to tackling food insecurity, the actions taken in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and our aims and ambitions for ending hunger by 2030.

Scottish Government's approach to tackling food insecurity

The Scottish Government takes a human rights approach to tackling food insecurity founded on principles of dignity and respect. This is part of our overall strategy to tackle inequalities and build a fairer, more equal Scotland. Our estimated investment to support low income households was £1.96 billion in 2019-20, with investment targeted at children living in poverty of £672 million. Scottish Government actions on food insecurity sit across several policy areas and are focused on measures to:

1. Prevent food insecurity through increased incomes

We recognise that food insecurity is driven by insecure and insufficient incomes and that measures to tackle these drivers are necessary in order to address the problem. Actions cut across the three main mechanisms of child poverty reduction, as outlined in the first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan.

First, our approach to improving incomes through work is laid out in our Fair Work Plan and includes our commitment to promoting the real Living Wage. Our Gender Pay Gap Action Plan has over 60 actions to tackle the root causes of the gender pay gap and advance economic equality for women. Through our new Parental Employability Support Fund, we are supporting parents to access and progress in work and increase their incomes.

Second, reducing household costs includes measures to improve access to advice on income maximisation and savings on outgoings through the Money Talk Team, as well as the massive expansion of universally funded Early Learning and Childcare.

Third, we are using limited powers to maximise incomes from social security through our new social security system that is founded on principles of dignity and respect. Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods provide support in the early years, while the Scottish Child Payment will be available for families on low income benefits with children under 16, paying the equivalent of £10 a week for each eligible child.

The Scottish Government continues to raise concerns with the UK Government regarding welfare cuts, policies that are making people poorer and causing hardship, and the failures of Universal Credit to provide an adequate safety net. Eighty-five percent of benefit spending remains with the UK Government including income based benefits and state pension.

2. Improve dignified and 'cash first' food insecurity responses

To help reduce the need for emergency food aid, improving referral pathways between local services is vital so that those facing income crisis have access to the Scottish Welfare Fund, as well as advice and income maximisation.

Through the Fair Food Fund we are supporting community organisations to move away from emergency food aid as the primary response and to develop more dignified models which promote choice, participation and community development and support pathways out of crisis.

3. Coordinate action on food policy

Scotland's Good Food Nation policy provides the high level ambition and cross-government coordination to ensure people have access to affordable, locally produced and nutritious food. Scottish Ministers will develop a new non-statutory statement on food policy. This statement, led by the Ministerial Working Group on Food will build on recent experience of COVID-19 response, and will consider rights, security, production and availability of food.

Beyond this, the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership is exploring a new statutory human rights framework for Scotland and a Bill to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law is expected to be passed by the Scottish Parliament before the end of the current parliamentary session.

The Scottish Government's response to food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Scottish Government has now committed more than £0.5 billion in social protection since the onset of the pandemic, including more than £130 million targeted at tackling food insecurity. This has included:

  • A total of £87.6 million to local authorities, supported by Scottish Government guidance, to support those struggling to access or afford food, including Free School Meal provision over the school holidays up to and including Easter 2021.
  • Provision of grocery packages of essential supplies for those at extreme clinical risk (the shielded group), until the end of July 2020 totalling £50.28 million.
  • Considerable investment in national and local third sector and community food responses, totalling over £15 million.

Our £100 million Winter Plan for Social Protection, includes a £100 COVID Winter Hardship Payment for each child eligible for free school meals on the basis of low income – supporting an estimated 156,000 children and young people.

The Scottish Government has promoted a 'cash first' (direct cash transfer) approach to tackling food insecurity. For people who have been able to access food shopping safely, we recognise the importance of ensuring they are able to afford to buy the food and other essentials they need. That is why we provided local authorities the flexibility to offer their allocation of COVID-19 funding as cash support where appropriate, as well as making an additional £22 million immediately available to local authorities for the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Recovery and Renewal: addressing food insecurity beyond the pandemic

The direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic have been devastating individuals and communities across the whole of Scotland. We are committed to addressing these impacts by building on existing progress to create a fairer, more equal Scotland in the post-pandemic era.

An expert Social Renewal Advisory Board and related policy circles, including one on access to food, were set up to capture learning and drive progress. The Board published their report "If Not Now, When?" on 21st January 2021, including recommendations on how Scotland can learn from the pandemic experience and take action to build a more equal and socially just society.

Beyond this, the Scottish Government will continue to call on the UK Government to take urgent action to address shortcomings of the UK welfare system and insecure labour market exposed by the pandemic and make the changes needed to protect all from food insecurity.




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