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Ending food poverty in Scotland

Posted by Lisa MacReady Media Officer, Oxfam Scotland

17th Apr 2014

New figures released by the Trussell Trust show that in the last financial year the number of people in Scotland who turned to food banks increased fivefold from 14,000 to over 71,000 people. That is a colossal 400% increase in just 12 months.

As of March 2014, 40 food banks were operating across Scotland and during 2013-14 they helped to distribute 482 tonnes of food to Scots who were unable to afford to feed themselves.  These food banks, along with the generous churches, schools, supermarkets and other individuals who kindly donate to them, are doing an incredible job in stopping people from going hungry but, in a country as rich as Scotland, food poverty should not exist at all.

As well as monitoring the number of users, the Trussell Trust's research also reveals the reasons why people are seeking food support. Homelessness, unemployment and sickness all feature but the top 3 reasons for attending a food bank were welfare delays (20,332 cases), low income (13,552 cases) and welfare changes (13,535 cases). Shockingly, many of those referred due to a low income were found to be in employment and the vast majority of benefit changes were found to be related to sanctions.

These new figures are further evidence that the cuts to our social safety nets have gone too far and that more and more people are falling through the holes. We are seeing hunger and destitution on a disturbing scale and it is getting worse. 

Encouragingly, Scotland's food poverty growth is not going unnoticed. The Scottish Government recently announced a £1 million provision to emergency food suppliers over the next two years and the Big Lottery fund have announced a contribution or nearly the same amount to support the work of the Trussell Trust in Scotland. These contributions are greatly welcomed but they are still just a temporary plaster for a gaping wound that will continue to bleed until we address its root causes.

With food poverty affecting those both in and out of employment our current economy is clearly not providing the financial security that it should be. We need the national minimum wage and social protection payments to rise in line with inflation to give people the ability to afford food to feed themselves and their families. We also need to move faster towards paying the living wage. Whether people are in or out of work they should have sufficient money to live with dignity.

Furthermore, Oxfam recently reported that the five richest families in the UK share the same wealth as the poorest twenty per cent of the population. This inequality is not a sign of success; it is a sign of economic and political failure. Whilst the poorest turn to food banks, the wealthiest are enjoying the biggest tax cuts of any country in the world. We need to begin rebalancing our economy, starting with raising revenue by clamping down on companies and individuals who currently avoid paying their fair share of tax.

Power over tax and social security mostly reside at Westminster but we could do more to tackle this issue in Scotland too. We want the Scottish Government to institute the role of a Poverty Commissioner to make sure that new policies are designed to reduce poverty, as well as to push for change in existing policies that do not do this.  Poverty is about more than just money, it is about influence too - and we must do more to redress this imbalance.

The bottom line is that there is no justification for food poverty in Scotland. We need the UK government to address the current inequality crisis, create a stable economy that allows everyone to live with dignity and ensure that food poverty in 21st century Scotland becomes a shameful historical blot in our prosperous future. 

Blog post written by Lisa MacReady

Media Officer, Oxfam Scotland

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