A Menu for Change has produced a report which contains heart-breaking stories of poverty
A major new report on the causes of food insecurity in Scotland has found that inadequate and insecure incomes are key triggers in causing people to turn to emergency food aid.
A Menu for Change’s report Found Wanting is the result of sustained engagement with people facing food insecurity in Scotland and is the first research of its kind. It identifies key failings in the system, with opportunities to prevent food insecurity being missed.
The report reveals the deep physical, psychological and social impacts on individuals and families of food insecurity and, critically, identifies the various shocks to people’s income which can cause them to become unable to afford food, as well as other essentials.
A Menu for Change – an innovative partnership between the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and Nourish – says the findings can help ensure better support to help stop people from reaching crisis.
While the researchers found that people who are food insecure find great support from informal networks, as well as from housing, education and health providers, they are keen to emphasise the need for system change so that people benefit from early intervention and therefore do not reach crisis point.
The report highlights the importance of a wide range of services in preventing food insecurity and is released ahead of a major meeting of stakeholders in Glasgow today (Wednesday), where it will be presented to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP.
John Dickie, A Menu for Change board member, said: “The deeply personal stories captured in this report are as a heart-breaking as they are avoidable and bring into sharp focus how we must do so much more to protect people from the income crises which fuel food insecurity and hunger.
“The social security system is failing even as a safety net to support people who experience a shock to their income, meaning that insecure employment or changes to personal circumstances, like a bereavement, too often push people into needing emergency food aid.
“Low wages, combined with zero hours contracts and long delays in accessing key benefits, are tightening the grip of poverty and stopping people from building up their resilience to day-to-day shocks.
“The mental and physical tolls of going hungry are often extreme, and further dent people’s resilience to the challenges of inadequate and insecure incomes. “
The report makes a number of recommendations for the UK and Scottish Governments, local authorities, public bodies and employers, including: restoring the value of key benefits and then uprating them in line with inflation, removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit (UC), and abolishing both the benefit cap and two-child limit.
It also wants to see the National Living Wage increased to the Real Living Wage, better support for people who develop mental and physical ill-health to remain in work, as well as a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts, and compliance with agreed minimum standards of employment amongst employers and recruitment agencies.
Emergency help from the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) provided valued cash support to just over half the interviewees when facing income crisis, but the report also highlights the need for additional investment and learning from best practice to strengthen the Fund as an effective safety net.
Overall, the report emphasises the need to improve incomes to stop people from reaching the crisis point where the need to turn to emergency support.
Insecurity is fuelling poverty
Researchers tracked individuals from Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife, the three local authorities where the project runs, over the course of a year. Participants stressed the importance of being treated with dignity. The findings show that delays in receiving UC payments, insecure income from zero-hours contracts and shift work, combined with personal crisis, like bereavements, all caused participants to turn to foodbanks.
• One woman, a lone parent with two disabled sons, told how she lost her Personal Independence Payment, her son’s Disability Living Allowance was downgraded, and her Carer’s Allowance withdrawn. Her son then attempted suicide, before her PIP was reinstated and she received a higher rate of DLA. She told researchers: ‘I’ve felt suicidal more times than I’ve had hot dinners and that’s no joke’.
• Another woman described going seven weeks without receiving shifts via her zero hours contract cleaning job, then left her job and faced a seven week wait for her UC payment. She fell into rent arrears and, despite securing a 16 hour a week job at a petrol station, had to take out a UC loan to pay for new glasses to do her job, and was forced to use taxis to get home from late shifts, which meant she could not afford to eat.
• A man who lives alone with his 18-year-old son said he felt ‘punished’ for being in temporary employment. He described being pushed from a six-month job to a two-week job and a three-month job, during which period he got a UC cheque for one pence, and went on to face a nine-week wait for a UC payment, and relied on a SWF award. He said: “I just wish I could get
a full-time job, you know, where it was permanent rather than temp. It’s all just temporary jobs at the moment so it’s not my fault that this happened. It’s contract ending. I’ve no’ been sacked, I’ve no’ walked oot the job or anything… but I’m being punished.”