Food banks

Click on our infographic to see the key facts from this indicator set. Food bank infographic - if you require an accessible version or a transcript please email info@gcph.co.uk

The provision of food parcels and food aid has grown significantly in Scotland and the rest of the UK in the last eight years. In 2009, there was one Trussell Trust foodbank operating in Scotland. By April 2017, this had increased to 52, with 119 centres - some operate ‘satellite’ foodbank centres in various locations in the surrounding area. Five of the foodbanks are in Glasgow. Across the UK there are 427 Trussell Trust foodbanks, as of April 2017. Aside from the Trussell Trust, there are other foodbanks run by a range of organisations, however the exact scale is not clear. 

In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, determining the exact scale of food aid provision remains problematic. In part this is due to the diverse and often informal nature of food aid providers. In 2013, the Scottish Government carried out a study into the extent of food aid provision in Scotland and to understand more about food aid providers operations, monitoring systems and client bases. They found food aid provision in Scotland is delivered by three key types of organisations: local independent organisations; larger national organisations, such as the Salvation Army and the Missionaries of Charity; and finally, churches operating a Trussell Trust foodbank franchise. Most food aid providers have a connection with a religious institution. 

In 2011, the Trussell Trust provided 5,726 three-day emergency food supplies to people in Scotland. By 2016/17 this had risen to 145,865.

In 2016, the Scottish Government published Dignity: Ending Hunger Together in Scotland - The Report of the Independent Working Group on Food Poverty.

The report is structured by five overarching aims:

  • We have to treat people in food insecurity with dignity as the core principle which runs through all potential solutions.
  • We have to understand the scale of the problem in order that we can address it more effectively. 
  • We have to focus on how we prevent food insecurity and hunger from occurring in the first place.
  • We have to respond more effectively when people do fall into food insecurity and hunger.
  • We have to invest in creating more sustainable, longer-term and more life-enriching solutions to food insecurity.

A Parliamentary Committee looked into the issue of food banks in 2014 to find out if there were possible links to the UK Government’s welfare reforms.  In June 2014, they published a report of their findings, Food Banks and Welfare Reform, which stated that although the Department of Work and Pension’s Ministers made it clear that  ‘they see no direct link between the increase in use of food banks in Scotland and welfare reform’, the Committee was ‘convinced by the volume and strength of the evidence it has received that there is a direct correlation between welfare reform and the increase in use of food banks’.

Food banks gender crop

Who is using food banks? 

Citizens advice bureaux work with local providers of food to ensure that clients in need are signposted to local sources of support. Men are more likely to be given this type of support: around 3% of male clients seek advice compared to 1% of female clients. As well as this, 8% of all unemployed clients, 4% of those unable to work due to a disability and 6% of those who live in council rented accommodation have sought advice on food aid - see citizens advice bureaux report. In Glasgow destitute migrants also use both foodbanks and soup kitchens. They tend to be homeless or threatened with homelessness and mainly comprise asylum seekers whose application for asylum has been rejected.

Reasons for using food banks 

The introduction of Universal Credit has been thought to have had an impact in foodbank use – in 2016 the Trussell Trust reported that in areas of full Universal Credit rollout across the UK, their foodbanks had seen a 17% increase in demand, compared to a 7% increase nationally. Universal Credit is being introduced as a replacement for six means tested benefits: income support, jobseekers allowance (JSA), employment and support allowance (ESA), working tax credit, child tax credit, and housing benefit. There are several key differences to Universal Credit, including that there is a six week delay before the first payment; it is paid in arrears; and that it introduces new forms of conditionality for both out of work and in work claimants. As of April 2017 it had been introduced in four local authorities in Scotland, with full rollout planned by September 2018. Glasgow City will be the last local authority in Scotland to transition to Universal Credit.

In 2017, the Trussell Trust reported that the most given reason for using foodbanks was low income (26%), followed by benefit delays (26%) and benefit changes (17%). Even where the target time for processing a claim is met, the gap between need and payment can be a long time to cope without income.

Food banks top reasons crop

Evidence from citizens advice bureaux and the Trussell Trust can give some insight into foodbank use due to benefit reform and administration. For example, the proportion of clients who used a Trussell Trust foodbank due to a benefit change increased from 10% in 2011/12 to 19% between April-September 2013. More than four in ten (43%) clients who received help during April-June 2012 were referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks due to problems with benefits; this had risen to 52% during April-June 2013 when welfare reforms such as the spare bedroom subsidy (commonly known as the bedroom tax) came into life.

In particular, the sanctions regime for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants has been a factor in the rise in food bank use. JSA claimants are required to meet a number of conditions in order to show that they are actively seeking employment. A failure to meet these conditions may result in the claimant’s JSA payments being sanctioned for a fixed period of up to three years. Claimants can receive sanctions for a number of reasons, including failure to apply for or accept a job, failure to attend a mandatory Jobcentre meeting, or failure to participate in the Work Programme.  

More information

The information above is taken from the following reports:

Data on the Trussell Trust is taken from the Trussell Trust website. The Trussell Trust statistics are a measure of volume – they show the number of people to whom The Trussell Trust foodbanks have given three days’ emergency food. These are not necessarily unique users. For example, if a family of three was referred to a foodbank twice in one year, this would count as six people on the system, because someone received three days’ emergency food six times. However, if a family of three were only referred to a foodbank once, this would count as three.

Access more information about the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Additional information on food banks in Glasgow can be found on the Glasgow Advisory and Information Network

This short documentary film (YouTube, opens in new window) looks at the volunteers and users of the Maryhill Foodbank in Glasgow.

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