One week ago, the Scottish Government published its long-awaited vision for creating a Scotland without foodbanks, entitled Cash-First. Before we get into the detail, let us set the context. For this, we must journey back over a decade to April 2013 when the Welfare Reform Act was implemented by the coalition government of former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. This Act introduced a spare room subsidy (often referred to as the ‘bedroom tax’), a new benefit called ‘Universal Credit’ and increased the use of benefit sanctions.
To say these reforms changed the social security landscape would be to understate the situation – poverty levels and foodbank demand both soared. Scottish Government research confirmed these reforms were foremost among “factors driving the recent trend of increased demand for food aid”. The number referred to all Trussell Trust foodbanks in Scotland in the financial year ending April 2013 was 14,318. A decade on and The Trussell Trust foodbank in Dundee & Angus alone helped more people in the year ending April 2023.
Credit where credit is due, the Scottish Government has for over a decade recognised the link between these two phenomena and sought to mitigate their impact through various measures. From pioneering the Scottish Welfare Fund in 2013 to Social Security Scotland in 2018, new responses have eased pressure. The report’s hypothesis is more “money in people’s pockets when they face crisis” means less need for foodbanks. Evidence certainly shows widening the Scottish Child Payment’s eligibility criteria last year helped “slow the pace of demand”.
However, in addition to cash-first responses like crisis grants via the Scottish Welfare Fund or Scottish Child Payments via Social Security Scotland, the Scottish Government proposes “advice and support to help [people] maximise their incomes and prevent crisis happening again.” Their vision is this “will help make foodbanks the last port of call in an emergency…” Upon this vision, there is widespread affirmation and buy-in from those leading voluntary sector organisations across Scotland.
So what good news specifically can we draw from this report in relation to local activity?
- The first action in the report says: “We will support new local partnership work to deliver cash-first”. In April, Dundee & Angus Foodbank announced it was the busiest Trussell Trust foodbank in Scotland and discussed this kind of partnership work with its 80 volunteers at an event in Hotel Indigo. A hard-working mum called Lyndsey spoke that day about using the foodbank due to spiralling costs. She now receives Scottish Child Payment and said: “This is the difference between using the foodbank and not.” She hasn’t been back to the foodbank.
- The second action in the report says: “We will expand testing of new models that provide immediate assistance”. Some years ago, one foodbank I worked closely with in Fife co-located with a Scottish Welfare Fund advisor and sent any client referred due to low-income over to said advisor. They had a 98% success rate of accessing crisis grants for those who needed them and foodbank use plummeted by over 30% in the area immediately after implementation. Thus, if carefully implemented, these interventions can work.
- The third action in the report says: “The Trussell Trust will [fund] specialist advice services … in sixteen local authority areas in Scotland.” This includes Dundee and will later be rolled out into Angus. With a generous additional contribution from Northwood Charitable Trust, led by the local Thomson family, over £150,000 has been raised to co-locate services, including the Scottish Welfare Fund and Social Security Scotland in the foodbank. Starting in July, this model will be tested with the sole intent to decrease foodbank use locally.
This report is not perfect by any means but it is a step in the right direction for anyone who believes men and women need not rely upon their fellow citizens to survive, let alone thrive.