Motion

That the Parliament notes with concern the ever increasing rise in the number of people relying on food banks in Scotland and across the UK; considers that it is not only the unemployed, but also those underemployed or underpaid who are increasingly becoming reliant on food banks to feed themselves and their families; acknowledges the hard work and dedication of the staff and volunteers at food banks in West Scotland and across the rest of the country, and believes that changes to benefits, rises in energy costs and static incomes have helped contribute to such a large increase in the need for such aid.

SCVO briefing

SCVO has provided the following briefing to MSPs in advance of Mr McMillan’s planned debate on the growth of food banks in Scotland on Thursday.

We welcome this debate and share the concern of many MSPs about the growth of food banks in Scotland in a country which is rich with resources.

A combination of factors has led to this growth including austerity measures and welfare cuts driven by the Coalition Government. In addition, the increased cost of living alongside reduced incomes and increased part time working are key factors e.g. Food prices in Britain increasing by 32 per cent since 2007, double the EU average.

The advent of a harsh sanctions regime, retrospective and often unjustified application of sanctions to those who are already vulnerable is driving people towards destitution – this is subsequently placing increased demand on a whole range of third sector organisations as well as driving increased use of food banks.

SCVO’s response to the recent DWP (Oakley) review of sanctions highlights this issue.

We cannot celebrate the expansion of food banks – but it is a testament to the caring nation we are that people in communities are finding ways to support families and individuals who are left with nothing to eat – that communities are taking action to help those in need.   It doesn’t matter which policy drove us to be in this situation – morally and economically, we must respond and ensure we have a secure safety net for those who are unable to have their most basic human rights fulfilled.

Third sector organisations across Scotland are responding this week to the consultation about draft legislation for the Scottish Welfare Fund.  Many will raise concerns that how it is operating may serve to work against families and individuals in need.  We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to enhance the Fund, but a full evaluation is needed to ensure that it doesn’t create a new level of bureaucracy and stigma which prevents people from seeking help in the form or crisis or community care grants.

Lastly, in responding to the Economy Committee’s recent call for evidence around the economic future of Scotland, we highlighted the need to change our view of the economy and tackle in work poverty – as Mr McMillan’s motion highlights, many who use food banks are people in employment.

Our low wage economy needs to be tackled; and we need to see economic growth not as an end in itself but as a means of tackling inequality and poverty.  We must ensure that the well-being of people across Scotland is the leading principle behind any vision for Scotland’s economic future. A continued focus on the economic model that has led to poverty and inequality is detrimental to Scotland’s people and we question the value of this approach. We know that the need to rebalance the economy is not just a moral point, but that doing so will have long-lasting positive financial impacts.

In this context, the third sector is responding creatively to the challenges facing families.  Examples include:

  • Partnerships between carers’ organisations and local supermarkets to help people shop online, and make their money go further.
  • Projects such as Canny Families – which aim to support families with children to better manage rising energy/food costs and to maximise their income. (funded by Big Lottery)

We need to continue to support this kind of activity – activity which SCVO highlighted in its’ welfare reform mapping work over a year ago. Our work demonstrated the additional pressures faced by third sector organisations of all kinds as individuals and families struggle with the impact of benefit cuts and the cost of living. We highlighted the need to invest in community organisations which are able to connect to families at risk, and prevent them from reaching crisis situations.  We welcome the commitment of a £2.5 million welfare reform capacity fund for third sector organisations outlined in the 2014 budget, which should be used to help community organisations to continue to focus on their preventative work whilst dealing with increased demand – demand which many expect to continue to increase over the coming months.