As a part of our work to address the #NeedsNow of children, young people and families we support, we are launching Simply Scran – a campaign to ensure everyone has access to three nutritious meals a day. You can support the campaign by signing the Letter to the First Minister and the Scottish Government here.
We recognise that food insecurity can ultimately only be addressed by ensuring all families can afford basic necessities. In his latest article Martin Dorchester, Chief Executive of includem sets out the case for informed policy making to address food insecurity through adequate incomes.
Food poverty is poverty. And poverty isn’t new.
“It’s heartbreaking to see. People going to the bother of working and they still have to choose whether to eat or pay bills.” (Parent, includem Voices report 2021)
The current cost-of-living crisis is shedding a new light to an old and entrenched problem. The choice between food and fuel has been a challenge facing families across the country for a long time. Two years ago in 2020, includem published our research on poverty and the impact of covid-19 on the young people and families we support – this included findings that 49% of those surveyed struggled to put food on the table on a regular basis (rising to 60% for families on social security) – alongside grappling with costs associated with heating, transport, housing, digital access and debt. Preliminary findings from our cost-of-living survey currently underway suggests dire circumstances have only worsened.
Even before current inflation, ‘lifting yourself up by your bootstraps’ wasn’t possible for many families. Setting aside the major challenges parents and carers face in accessing the labour market, the belief that the way out of poverty is employment is shattered by the scale of in-work poverty. According to Scottish Government national statistics, in 2017-2020 61% of adults in poverty in Scotland live in working households, increasing from 48% in 1997-2000. This is particularly clear for the 1 in 4 children experiencing poverty – with 68% living in working households.
A long-term ingrained issue has now erupted!
“My kids would never go without, I would, but not them. Sometimes I only eat one meal a day…” (Parent, includem Voices report 2021)
In the UK, there are over 1,400 Trussell Trust food banks with at least 1,172 independent food banks in the UK. This is likely to be an underestimate, as it doesn’t include every type of food bank – including those in schools. As many have noted over recent years, there are more food banks in the UK than McDonald branches.
The scale of this infrastructure is a concerning sign that our social security system and low-income labour market are and will continue to be dependent on emergency food provisions from charities and other voluntary sector organisations. In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, this should be shocking – but like climate change, this issue was foretold and forewarned, not once but repeatedly.
Costs have outstripped earnings, and the demand for emergency food parcels is increasingly untenable. Many less familiar with the punitive nature of our social support systems are having to face it for the first time – taking on the three-part challenge all too familiar for low-income families: navigating complex support systems while facing destitution, during a time when our public and third sector support systems are overwhelmed.
This is not about quick fixes. We need informed policy making.
“I think they should look at how much people are actually earning and give more access to the uniforms and free school meals.” (Parent, includem Voices report 2021)
If we only fight the fire in front of us, long term solutions are ignored. Wounds in our public systems will continue to fester, leaving a worsening reality for the youngest among us. For children today to grow up into a world that isn’t as flammable, planning how we get out of the cycle of reacting to crises is essential.
This means ensuring families can access their own food. We need to recognise that food poverty, period poverty, fuel poverty, housing insecurity, and the attainment gap all come under the whole picture of poverty. As a starter, we are calling on the Scottish Government to double to bridging payments for school age children not yet receiving the Scottish Child Payment, and (at least) retain its (soon to be) £25 a week value in real terms next year.
This means recognizing the role of public debt in trapping families into poverty. Local authorities should be supported to wipe out all School Meal debt and Scottish Government should explore measures that better support those on social security facing public debt – ensuring recovery does not impact their ability to sustain themselves & their family and build a way out of poverty.
This means ending the penalization of those seeking support. Stigma is deeply embedded into the administration of our system, including in treating entitlements like handouts and thresholds for support that do not reflect the real cost of living. Social security and its administration must be reviewed to ensure it is fit for purpose – adding stabilizing scaffolding rather than uncertainty into families’ lives.
If you are an organisation that cares about these issues, help us call for action on Simply Scran! Sign the Letter to the First Minister and the Scottish Government demanding for change by the 16th of October.
Join the conversation online using #SimplyScran.