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

The Scottish Government's approach to tackling food insecurity

24. The Scottish Government takes a human rights approach to tackling food insecurity founded on principles of dignity and respect as part of our overall approach to tackle inequalities and poverty. Our estimated investment to support low income households was over £1.96 billion in 2019-20.

25. We recognise food insecurity as a lack of access to adequate or appropriate food due to a lack of resources, and we are committed to actions which address the structural causes of the problem. In doing so, we recognise that some households are impacted disproportionately by barriers to accessing food and that different households have different food needs. We are clear that no one should go hungry or have to rely on emergency food aid and are committed to ending the need for food banks in Scotland. We have committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals which include Goal 2: Ending Hunger.

26. In 2015, stakeholders came together at the request of the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights to set the policy direction for tackling food insecurity in Scotland. The report of the independent working group on food poverty, Dignity: Ending Hunger Together[9] made 19 recommendations to better understand, prevent, respond and invest in food insecurity.

27. It also identified four dignity principles to underpin action on food insecurity. This report laid the foundations for current Scottish Government policy. It made clear the need to improve incomes in order to prevent food insecurity, and to strengthen the crisis response through improved access to cash and advice, as well as investing in the community food sector.

28. Scottish Government actions on food insecurity sit across several policy areas and are focused on measures to:

  • Prevent food insecurity through increased incomes;
  • Improve dignified, holistic and 'cash first' food insecurity responses that create pathways out of crisis; and
  • Coordinate action on food policy.

29. Our commitment to address food insecurity is embedded within several key policy frameworks to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland, including the Fairer Scotland Action Plan[10] and the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan[11], which sets our action to delivery progress on the ambitious targets set within the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017[12].

30. The Scottish Government's approach to food insecurity recognises that the right to food is about much more than availability of sufficient calories and that the accessibility, acceptability and quality of food matter. In tackling food insecurity we consider financial and physical access to food that is safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate.

31. The right to food can only be fully guaranteed by addressing the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of food in an integrated and systematic manner, and by recognising the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of all human rights.

Preventing food insecurity through increased incomes

32. 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.

33. That is why the Scottish Government has taken a range of actions to improve the financial security of low income households. This includes setting in statute the ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. The first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, covering the period 2018-22, outlines three main drivers of child poverty reduction:

  • Increasing household incomes through work;
  • Reducing household costs; and
  • Maximising incomes through social security.

34. Our approach also puts a strong focus on improving the life chances of children living in poverty now, mitigating its damaging effects through the likes of the Scottish Attainment Challenge[13].

Increasing incomes through Work

27. Employment law and responsibility for setting all levels of the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage is reserved to the UK Government. However, the Scottish Government continues to encourage every organisation, regardless of size, sector, or location to ensure all staff receive a fair rate of pay for the work they do and support the real Living Wage Campaign; this campaign is an independent movement of businesses, organisations and people who believe a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. The real Living Wage is paid to all workers over 18 years old and is set at a rate of £9.30 per hour (2019-20).

35. In line with this the Scottish Government has taken a number of distinct steps to promote the real Living Wage, including leading by example and becoming a real Living Wage Accredited Employer; promoting the Scottish Business Pledge[14], which is helping to both raise the profile of the real Living Wage and get more businesses on board by requiring signatories to pay the Living Wage alongside a range of other commitments that support Fair Work, including on equality, flexible working and avoiding inappropriate zero hours contracts. The Scottish Government has supported payment of the real Living Wage in its Public Sector Pay Policy since 2011. This is a decisive long term commitment to those on the lowest incomes. The Public Sector Pay Policy acts as a benchmark for other workforces.

36. To help increase family incomes through work, we are taking broad ranging action to help parents to enter and progress in the labour market and to make workplaces fairer and to tackle inequalities. This includes investment in our new Parental Employability Support Fund, offering holistic support to help parents address barriers to employment and/or progression in work, supporting them to increase their income and lift them and their families out of poverty, reducing the risk of food insecurity.

37. Through No One Left Behind[15], delivered in partnership with Local Government we are working with key partners across the public, third and private sectors to implement transformational change which supports those furthest from the labour market to progress towards fair and sustainable work. This will be achieved by creating an employability system that is easier to navigate, more integrated and aligned with other services, and that has user voices at its heart.

38. The need for better paid flexible work is felt most acutely by those experiencing higher levels of poverty, for example women, (and in particular, lone parents and mothers). That is why we have funded Timewise to deliver a Fair Flexible Work Programme for Scotland. This initiative is designed to benefit the specific priority family groups identified within the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan for whom access to better paid flexible work is evidenced to be a key factor in helping them to raise their household earnings.

39. Fair Work is a key driver for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth and a wellbeing economy and is at the heart of our economic recovery. The Scottish Government's ambition – shared by the Fair Work Convention – is for Scotland to be a Fair Work Nation by 2025. The Fair Work Action Plan[16], published in February 2019, sets out the approach we are taking to embed fair work practices within workplaces across Scotland. Our commitment to workplace equality and fair pay is reflected in our flagship Fair Work First policy and our active promotion of the real Living Wage. Fair Work First is about rewarding and encouraging employers to adopt fairer work practices – focusing on particular challenges in the labour market that can be improved to make a real difference to people, businesses and the economy. We are asking employers accessing grants, funding and contracts awarded by and across the public sector to commit to:

  • Appropriate channels for effective voice and employee engagement, such as trade union recognition;
  • Investment in workforce development;
  • Action to tackle the gender pay gap and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace;
  • No inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts; and
  • Payment of the real Living Wage.

Reducing household costs

40. To help families reduce household costs, we are investing £2 billion to support the massive expansion of universally funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) to 1,140 hours – for all 3 and 4 year olds, and for two year olds who stand to benefit most – a target date for completion of the expansion will be set by the end of 2020. This provision of childcare also helps enable parents to access employment.

41. We have supported the development of a flexible childcare model to make childcare more accessible and affordable for low income families. This includes a toolkit designed to support other ELC providers develop and embed flexible provision within their own services. Since its launch in February 2020, nearly 240 providers across Scotland have signed up to use the toolkit.

42. Significant investment is also being made in the delivery of affordable homes, including those for social rent which we know plays a major role in reducing poverty. The Scottish Government has now delivered nearly 96,000 affordable homes since 2007 the majority for social rent. Our commitment to housing continues as outlined in the draft Infrastructure Investment Plan[17] which sets out planned capital investment of over £2.8 billion over 5 years from 2021, to deliver more affordable and social homes in the coming years.

43. The Scottish Government has taken steps to mitigate UK Government welfare reforms that impact on household costs for those on low incomes, including committing over £60 million towards Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to help people who are affected by the Bedroom Tax. We have also increased the funding for other DHPs which provides housing support for people affect by UK Government welfare reforms including the Benefit Cap and Local Housing Allowance. This has risen from £10.9 million to £18.9 million, as a direct result of the impact of the pandemic.

44. The Council Tax Reduction (CTR) scheme in Scotland means nobody has to suffer hardship because they have lost the ability to pay their council tax. The scheme assesses a household's income and other factors, and can reduce council tax liability by up to 100% (meaning a household pays no council tax). Just over 500,000 households received some level of CTR in August 2020. On average CTR recipients saved over £700 a year (over £13 per week). The Scottish Government continue to promote take up of CTR as part of the Money Talk Team service. In the first 21 month of delivery those who used the service gained over £570,000 in terms of CTR they were entitled to but had not applied for.

45. In addition to these cost-saving measures, investment continues in services such as the Money Talk Team, to provide advice to help people to maximise their incomes and access the best value deals for goods and services; as well as welfare mitigation, advice and debt services.

Maximising incomes through social security

46. The Scottish Government is building a social security system in Scotland that treats people with dignity, fairness and respect. Eight benefits have now been introduced since 2018, five of which are brand new, three replace previous UK benefits, and all of which are increase support or eligibility. This includes strengthened support through Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods[18] in the early years. From 12 August 2019, Best Start Foods has replaced the UK Healthy Start Voucher scheme in Scotland, providing direct financial support to families on low income benefits to purchase healthy foods. Best Start Foods targets support for families in the crucial early years, throughout pregnancy up until a child turns three.

47. We have ended the stigma associated with the previous UK Healthy Start Voucher scheme by introducing a pre-paid card that works in the same way as a regular bank card. The Best Start Foods scheme has also increased payments for families from £3.10 to £4.25 a week; improved choice by including a wider range of foods for families to purchase and increased access to a wider range of retailers by removing the need for retailer registration. We are trusting families to make the best informed choices ensuring access to healthy foods that many struggle to afford.

48. The Best Start Grant has been welcomed by families. The three payments aim to tackle the impacts of child poverty and give children the best start in life by providing financial support to eligible parents and carers during key transition points in children's early years:

  • the Pregnancy and Baby Payment helps with expenses associated with pregnancy or with having a new child;
  • the Early Learning Payment helps with the costs of early learning around the time a child might start nursery; and
  • the School Age Payment provides financial support around the time a child is first old enough to start primary school.

49. The Best Start Grant represents significant additional investment by the Scottish Government in comparison to the UK Government's Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) provision which it replaces. An eligible two-child family will receive Best Start Grant payments totalling £1,900 in their children's' early years; £1,400 more than the SSMG.

50. A critical measure in terms of maximising income from social security is the introduction of Scottish Child Payment – a new benefit, to be delivered by Social Security Scotland, designed to tackle child poverty head on.

51. The Chair of the Scottish Commission on Social Security, Dr Sally Witcher, has described this ground-breaking payment as potentially representing the difference between ''a child going hungry or not''.

52. 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 by the end of 2022. This is subject to data on qualifying benefits being received from the Department for Work and Pensions to allow us to make top-up payments. However we have introduced the payment early for families with children under six because we know from evidence that almost 60% of children in poverty live in a family with a child under six. Applications opened in November 2020, with the first payments made from the end of February 2021.

53. The Scottish Government has explicitly rejected the model adopted by the UK Government. Unlike the UK approach, the Scottish system does not impose any cap on the number of children a family can claim for. Eligible families with two children under six will receive up to £1,040 per year, while eligible families with three will receive up to £1,560.

54. The latest Scottish Fiscal Commission report forecasts that Scottish Child Payment in the first full year of payment (2021/22) could support up to 163,000 children. This tells us that this support is needed now more than ever. The investment in Scottish Child Payment in 2021/22 is forecasted at £68 million.

55. The Scottish Child Payment has been developed to directly tackle child poverty and is expected to have a positive impact on children's rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in particular the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 27) and to benefit from social security (Article 26).

56. We have endeavoured to make it as straightforward as possible for low income families to access their entitlements and have offered families the opportunity to apply for the Scottish Child Payment at the same time they apply for Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods. The Scottish Child Payment together with Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods will provide over £5,200 of financial support for families by the time their first child turns six. For second and subsequent children this package will provide over £4,900.

57. The Scottish Government reports annually on progress to tackle child poverty, with the most recent of these published in August 2020, summarising activity across 2019-20[19]. The report also provides the first estimates of spend targeted at children in low income households in 2019-20, which stands at over £672 million – an increase of £144 million on 2018-19.

58. While these actions by the Scottish Government are making a vital difference to low income households in Scotland, our overall ability to tackle poverty is limited by the constraints of devolved competence. The Scottish Government has direct control of only 15% of the Department for Work and Pensions' total spend on benefits in Scotland. All income replacement benefits remain reserved to Westminster.

59. The Scottish Government has repeatedly raised serious concerns with the UK Government in relation to welfare benefits in Scotland. In particular we have made numerous requests for key changes to Universal Credit and have highlighted the growing body of evidence which shows that Universal Credit is not working for many recipients and is often causing additional hardship for those who are reliant upon it. In addition we have urged the UK Government to reverse their policies on benefit sanctions which push people to emergency aid including food banks; the benefit cap which disproportionately impacts on families with children, particularly sole parents; and, the child cap on benefits which affects families with three or more children.

60. Recent Scottish Government analysis indicates that, as of May 2020, over 6,000 households in Scotland have had their benefit capped, with each household losing out on an average of £2,600 per year[20]. The same analysis found that just over 4,000 of those households with capped benefits included lone parents and their children. Both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have repeatedly called upon the UK Government to lift the benefit cap and to abolish the two-child limit and its associated rape clause. The Scottish Government has used its devolved powers to create new benefits that do not have a benefit cap, nor are they limited to the number of children that can be claimed for.

61. We have also used our powers to offer people in Scotland more control over how they receive their Universal Credit award, with households having the opportunity to receive twice-monthly Universal Credit payments or to have the housing element of their award paid directly to their landlords. These are known as the Universal Credit Scottish choices, delivered on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Department for Work and Pensions. These are intended to provide households, including those with children, more control over the money that they receive in their Universal Credit payment so that how they are paid better suits their household budgeting and needs. These flexibilities have been positively received, with just under half of people who offered the choices taking up either one or both. In May 2020 there were 32,600 people taking up the Direct Payment to Landlord and 68,800 people taking up the More Frequent Payment.

62. The Scottish Government is also working to deliver further flexibility for Universal Credit recipients in Scotland. We are working with the Department of Work and Pensions to develop a new policy that will offer couples the choice to split their household's payment of Universal Credit into individual payments, in an effort to provide independent incomes that reflect the needs and responsibilities of each person.

63. The Scottish Government strongly agrees with the UN Special Rapporteurs. It is unacceptable for those who are in receipt of Universal Credit to be pushed towards reliance on emergency aid, including food banks or the Scottish Welfare Fund. We also agree with the 2018 report from the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights who said UK levels of child poverty were "not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster".

Promoting dignified and 'cash first' responses to food insecurity

64. We recognise the importance of ensuring that people have access to cash in a crisis so that they can buy essentials like food and energy. The Scottish Welfare Fund[21], is a national scheme, underpinned by Scottish Government guidance and administered by local authorities. It can provide Crisis Grants where an individual is facing a disaster or emergency situation, and where there is an immediate threat to their health or safety or that of their family. It can also provide Community Care Grants that cover the cost of essential household items to enable a settled life in the community.

65. The Statutory Guidance[22], which local authorities must have regard to when assessing applications, encourages a holistic approach to ensure applicants are referred or signposted on to local services that may provide advice and help, including help to meet needs which cannot be supported through the Welfare Fund. This includes income maximisation and budgeting advice, such as that offered by the Money Talk Team.

66. From March to August 2020, there were around 149,000 applications for Crisis Grants, an increase of 41% on the same period of 2019. Crisis Grant expenditure by local authorities was £9.4 million, 53% higher than the same period of 2019. We provided an immediate additional £22 million funding to the Scottish Welfare Fund at the onset of the pandemic, followed by further £20 million flexible funding and are maintaining close contact with local authorities to monitor and support the provision of grants.

67. The Scottish Government recognises and values the important role which community groups have in providing food and other support for people experiencing food insecurity. We are working with local groups as well as with national food aid organisations to respond to food insecurity in ways that promote dignity and help to move away from emergency food aid as the primary response. We are committed to improving referral pathways between local services so that those facing income crisis have access to the Scottish Welfare Fund as well as advice and income maximisation that can help reduce the need for emergency food aid.

68. We increased our £1 million a year Fair Food Fund[23], to £1.5 million in 2018-19, and to £3.5 million in 2019-20. The Fund supports communities to develop more dignified models which promote choice, participation and community development such as community meals, cooperatives and growing projects. It also promotes the development of pathways out of crisis, including strengthened access to income maximisation and wider services to help address the causes of food insecurity. This approach has been further promoted through our flexible, multi-year Investing in Communities Fund.

69. Recognising the additional financial pressures many households experience in the school holidays, in 2019-20 we targeted £2 million at tackling food insecurity during this period. Funding was invested in local authority and third sector projects providing food and activities, as well as in piloting new approaches and undertaking research to help inform policy development in this area in future. We also launched our Access to Childcare Fund in July 2020 which is further delivering new support after school and in the holidays.

70. Our approach to policy development and funding allocation in this area is informed by a set of 'dignity principles' as laid out in the Dignity: Ending Hunger Together[24], report. These principles are to:

  • involve people with direct experience in decision making;
  • recognise the social value of food;
  • provide people with opportunities to contribute; and
  • leave people with the power to choose.

71. These principles are in line with a human rights approach to tackling food insecurity. We have also funded a civil society organisation, Nourish Scotland, to work with people with direct experience to develop Dignity in Practice[25] tools and resources to support community organisations to realise these principles in the design and delivery of their activities. They have updated these resources for the COVID-19 pandemic context and delivered additional online workshops at this time.

Monitoring Food Insecurity in Scotland

72. We are monitoring household food insecurity through the Scottish Health Survey[26], using questions from the UN's Food Insecurity Experience Scale. This data has been collected annually since 2017 following recommendations from the Independent Working Group on Food Poverty in 2016[27].

73. The fourth Scottish data set was published in January 2021[28] showing that reported 8% of adults in Scotland experienced food insecurity between August 2019 and September 2020, defined as being worried they would run out of food due to lack of money or other resources[29]. The data has been integrated in to our National Performance Framework[30], as an indicator of progress against our national outcomes on poverty and human rights. This is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals – including Goal 2: End hunger[31]. As of 2019 data has also been collected through the Family Resources Survey on a UK-wide basis. This will enable fuller analysis of the prevalence of food insecurity against other income measures, and comparative analysis across the UK.Coordinating action on food policy: Scotland's Good Food Nation Ambition

74. Scotland's Good Food Nation policy[32] provides the high level ambition and cross-government coordination to ensure people have access to affordable, locally produced and nutritious food. Our programme of measures – published in September 2018 and updated in November 2019[33] – confirms the important work being done across the Scottish Government to deliver on our Good Food Nation ambition and demonstrates that legislation is not the only way to ensure action. Our Good Food Nation ambition, like all Scottish Government action, will continue to be informed by our international obligations.



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