UK in poverty crisis as Scotland foodbank demand doubles

Food aid campaigners are concerned the need for emergency food parcels will soar when furlough ends and local lockdowns impact people's income further

Independent foodbanks across Scotland have seen the demand for emergency food parcels more than double since the start of lockdown, new figures show.

Data from the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) showed a 108 per cent rise in food distributed in July compared to the same month last year.

Between 70 foodbanks spread across 20 council areas, at least 182,863 emergency food parcels were given out between February and July – despite the Scottish Government’s ‘cash first’ approach to social security.

IFAN is calling for urgent action from both Holyrood and Westminster to end the growing poverty which is pushing millions to turn to foodbanks. They are concerned that as the Government’s job retention scheme ends next month and local lockdowns are implemented across the country, more people will be pushed into financial hardship.

They want the UK Government to make the £20 lockdown-driven boost to Universal Credit a permanent change, remove the benefit cap which has affected nearly 154,000 families during the Covid-19 crisis, end the five-week wait for first Universal Credit payments (and make advance loans non-repayable) and scrap the two-child limit.

IFAN coordinator and Big Issue Changemaker Sabine Goodwin said: “The writing is on the wall. Even more people are going to be thrown into financial crisis in the coming months, and food banks cannot continue to pick up the pieces of a broken benefit system and insufficient wages.”

Ministers should also end the sanctions system, IFAN said, and crucially abolish the No Recourse to Public Funds policy which The Children’s Society estimates is locking one million people out of the welfare system.

And the Scottish Government must make efforts to strengthen its ‘cash first’ approach while doing more to promote the Scottish Welfare Fund so that people on low incomes know they can access money urgently if they need it, plus bringing forward the payments expected as part of the Scottish Child Payment due in February.

Evan Adamson of Instant Neighbour, a foodbank in Aberdeen, said: “As we approach the end of furlough and are seemingly being encouraged to ‘get back to normal’ it is important to apply the brakes.  We are still in unchartered territory in our food bank with request levels, and as we see more people fall into unemployment and insecurity this is likely to rise again before it gets any better.

“The amount of people who come to see me as they have no idea how to access information is astounding, and I spend large amounts of my day giving basic information regarding benefits, food insecurity and general Covid-19 updates. General information does not seem to be filtering down to local levels, and this will only become more important as we move towards the end of 2020.”

A similar picture is reflected throughout the UK after the Food Foundation released figures showing that 14 per cent of adults with children – around four million people – reported having struggled to afford food in the past six months.

Some adults said they had gone for a whole day without eating, while 12 per cent said they had skipped meals because they didn’t have the resources to afford food.

The charity has joined Marcus Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce, calling on the Government to implement National Food Strategy policies to support vulnerable kids.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of Food Foundation said: “The situation for families and their children is precarious. It’s vital that the economic measures which have been put in place to protect struggling families are maintained and increased further in the Autumn budget given the economic scenario we are facing.

“Too many families are missing out with devastating, life-long impacts on our children. Our data shows that government action really matters and has a direct impact on people’s lives and the future health and wellbeing of our children.”

The parents and guardians of nearly two million children said they had been forced to rely on a limited number of low-cost foods to feed their kids (six per cent), had to provide unbalanced meals (five per cent) and resorted to serving their children smaller portions.

Saffron Stedall, a 16-year-old Food Foundation Young Ambassador, said: “Lockdown has been really tough for so many young people and affected our lives in so many ways. But there is now a real possibility that government could bring in some policies to help end the stigma of poverty and improve kids’ access to healthy, sustainable food. It would be good for our health and good for the planet too.”