Benefit sanctions blamed for increased use of food banks
Gaps in the social security safety net are the key reason why people in Scotland are turning to food banks, according to a new report.
Published by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, in association with the Trussell Trust and Oxfam Scotland, the report builds upon UK-wide research which found that for between half and two thirds of food banks users interviewed, the immediate trigger for food bank use was linked to problems with benefits (including waiting for benefits to be paid, sanctions, problems with Employment Support Allowance) or missing tax credits.
The Scottish report, launched yesterday, tells the stories of six families who accessed food banks in central Scotland. It uses their experiences to highlight opportunities for the Scottish Government and local authorities to protect children at risk of the income crises at the heart of food bank use.
The report makes a series of recommendations for Scottish policy makers to use existing powers to save families from hardship including investing in local income maximisation, benefits and debt advice and removing financial barriers to local services such as schools and health services.
It also called for future social security powers to be devolved to Scotland to boost family income.
John Dickie of CPAG in Scotland said: “Food bank use and income crisis is increasing, largely as the result of changes to the social security system implemented by the UK Government, but regardless of what is triggering the income crisis, local authorities, the Scottish Government and employers have a real opportunity to do more to protect the health and wellbeing of children and families. They can all do more to poverty proof services, improve access to affordable transport, support struggling employees and ensure all families get the benefits and tax credits they are entitled to.
“We urge the Scottish Government, local authorities and employers to listen to the often distressing stories told in this report and take a harder look at what could be done here and now to help hard-pressed families in the face of a failing UK social security system.”
The most recent figures from the Trussell Trust show that in 2014/15, 117,689 people, including 36,114 children were provided with three days emergency food by Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland. The number of people referred two years earlier was 14,318.
Ewan Gurr from the Trussell Trust, said: “This is a timely report and The Trussell Trust welcomes the research and recommendations made to the Scottish Government and to local authorities across Scotland. It is hard to pinpoint a time when it has been as difficult for individuals to secure sustainable employment and a reasonable income and, for families, to provide a secure environment within which to raise children. These are the voices that need to be heard in our political discourse.
“I credit the effort made by Jane Perry and our colleagues at the Child Poverty Action Group to elevate the insights made by those experiencing financial hardship and the consequences of food poverty with a view to identifying solutions. Only then can we begin to reduce the need for food banks in Scotland and, God willing, move towards eradicating food poverty altogether.”
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, added: “In rich Scotland, no-one should be going hungry.
“Too often we focus on statistics but this report, produced by CPAG in Scotland, builds on UK-wide research and underlines the severe personal impact on individuals and their families.
“We must do more to fulfil peoples’ right to food, and all levels of government must examine what more they can do to reduce the need for foodbanks in Scotland.”