Weekly Poll – Ending the Need for Food Banks

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 13 December 2021, we asked a question about the Scottish Government consultation ‘Ending the need for food banks: a draft national plan’.

Results

Question 1. Have you used a food bank?  

  • YES – 22% (12 respondents)
  • NO – 78% (42 respondents)

Question 2. Do you think the actions featured in the draft national plan will help to end the need for food banks in Scotland?

  • YES – 26% (13 respondents)
  • NO – 74% (37 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Food Bank Usage

Food banks are charitable or community organisations that distribute food parcels to people experiencing financial hardship. Research conducted by the Trussell Trust found that over six in ten (62%) of working-age people in the United Kingdom were referred to food banks in early 2020 had a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010. This is more than three times the rate in the general working age population (19%). The results of the poll found that 22% (12 respondents) had used a food bank. Disabled people shared their experiences and perceptions of food bank usage in Scotland.

“I have not personally had to use a food bank as a disabled person on benefits, but I do know people who do/have. From the people I know who use food banks I do not think it is a simple case of increasing and securing income. Each individual I know has needed to use a food bank for different reasons, all have financial shortcomings but, in each case, this is for different reasons and clearly money management and prioritisation is a common feature (in the cases I know).”

“Unfortunately, society has gravitated into the charity operation of food banks. They shouldn’t need to exist, and it shows a modern problem where even working people cannot survive and afford the basic needs of food. It is essential that the Scottish Government act now to ensure that the proposed measures banish the embarrassing provision for food banks forever.”

“I had to make use of the food bank when my husband died, and the Bank closed our joint account. It was my doctor who sent me to the food bank, and I can’t praise them highly enough. This year due to the constriction placed about people gathering, they will be making free Christmas packed lunches to people who would be all by themselves or without food. It is a shame that reflects on the Government that there is still a need for it.”

“I haven’t needed to use the food bank, but I do volunteer at one. Although most people using the bank appreciate the help, some people think they have a right to use it (as if it is one of their benefits) and forget the foods are donations. Financial advice would be useful, but when it comes down to it, people can use their money in whatever way they want.”

“Food banks in this day and age, are absolutely abhorrent, and a huge stain on governments around the world, shameful and degrading.”

Some respondents commented on usage of food banks as a consequence of the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There needs to be support for people who were furloughed and had to cut their food budget to pay rent, mortgage and utilities. Or the self-employed people whose companies were under 3 years old because they were not entitled to financial help if someone else in the household was working. This happened to my daughter! A family of 5 surviving on one wage which was not guaranteed. My husband and I supported them rather than watching them go to a food bank. However, there are many families or single people out there who will fall through the net. They will not be entitled to benefits and might be too embarrassed to go to a food bank or ask for help. How will the government plan to reach these people?”

“Unfortunately, I think that food banks will be around for a while to come. It is very likely that there will be more demand placed on them over the next 12 to 18 months due to companies going under because of COVID and the impact it is having on the economy meaning that more people will be out of work.”

Financial Assistance

Living in poverty means being on a low income, compared to the average family in Scotland. Scottish Government National Statistics indicate that the poverty rate was 29% (640,000 people each year) for people who live with a disabled household member, and 16% (500,000 people) for those without. The Scottish Government has produced a draft national plan which outlines the action underway to prevent poverty and set out what more they intend to do using powers to end the need for food banks as a primary response to food insecurity. Respondents reflected on the impact of poverty, which leads to food bank usage.

“Unless disabled people are helped by way of financial help, they will continue to be the majority group at food banks. This is unacceptable, degrading and humiliating. These people cannot work, or certainly my husband cannot work at all and is medically defined as such, therefore there needs to be some dignified way of handling this chronic situation.”

“There will always be some people who can’t cope with balancing income and outgoings, especially with some of these medications dealing with chronic/severe pain. They can change personalities. I’m on a very low income and have long term chronic illness yet people not as ill or in as much difficulty as me were getting food parcels during the lockdown.”

“I think the measures announced will help, but they will not solve the problem on their own. Poverty rates are far too high in the United Kingdom, and this greatly contributes to food bank usage.”

Disabled people commented on the need for the UK and Scottish Governments to provide adequate financial assistance through social security payments.

“Food banks will always be required as people have to live with the benefit system and have poverty as standard under the UK government.”

“I think the impact of chronic poverty, including chronic in work poverty will take significant addressing of benefits level and sure vouchers will do anything more than add to vulnerabilities. What was an emergency fix is becoming routine for many, and steps to move on are so distant.”

“Unless disabled people stop being unfairly discriminated against with regards to income this won’t stop. Universal Credit not only affects physical health but it affects mental health too and traps disabled people in abusive relationships.”

“Bring back the Universal Credit £20 weekly uplift.”

“If those of us on pensions and or benefits were given the same sort of income that people in other countries receive then maybe there wouldn’t be the need for food banks. I wonder what happens to all the child benefit and why children are going to school hungry? How much does a small bowl of porridge cost? I made sure my daughter’s money went on school uniform and her food first.”

There were specific comments about the prospect of a Universal Basic Income, which is a system where the government would deliver unconditional cash payments to all citizens, without means testing or behavioural requirement.

“I would like to see the introduction of Universal Basic Income which I believe could eliminate the need for food banks. Sadly, that is probably too radical for the UK, and I don’t believe the Scottish Government will have the power or the funding to introduce it.”

“Food banks are a blessing in times of need, but I think that they could be phased out or limited for unexpected emergency with the fair pay scheme and the basic income proposals.”

“I don’t think a basic income would be a good idea. It sounds good on paper, but it would still disadvantage some people. Disabled people, sadly sometimes have more expenses than a single healthy person, so what they both get, could still potentially leave the disabled person short of enough money to live.”

Employment

Respondents believed that there should be greater support in place to ensure disabled people can find suitable and accessible employment opportunities. The Scottish Government Fair Work Plan includes a commitment to increase the number of people who are paid the real Living Wage and in secure work. There is also a commitment to increase awareness of support for employees who are unpaid carers.

“The best way to ensure people don’t need free food is to ensure access to well-paid work.”

“What has not been considered is the needs of disabled people. We have the disability employment gap, which has never featured in any of the schemes that have been brought forward, but yet a pound in the pocket of a non-disabled person is only worth, at the very most, 68p to a disabled person. This should be addressed separately by both Scottish and Westminster governments.”

“I have just been made unemployed at the end of my probation period with a large charity. Not a great Christmas gift. The training and working were all remote and my line manager was not equipped for the remoteness of task, either micromanaging or not managing. I know this is not directly food bank related, but the at times poor treatment of disabled employees, leads to lack of training and end of employment, which in turn can lead to poverty and food poverty.”

Shopping Vouchers

One of the actions featured in the national plan to end food banks is to pilot the use of shopping vouchers in place of food bank referrals. There was a mixed response from disabled people regarding shopping vouchers. A portion of respondents supported shopping vouchers as they believed it then allows individuals to choose their own food as opposed to what has been donated to a food bank. It was noted by one respondent that the vouchers could be regulated so that they are not used to purchase non-essential items.

“I do like the idea of food vouchers so that people can choose their own food rather than rely on charitable donations from the public. The need for food banks is a blight on our society and everything that helps to reduce reliance on them can only be a good thing.”

“The shopping vouchers sound dignified and that would help folk to make their own priorities. I’m very pleased it’s being taken seriously, never would’ve imagined that we’d even need food banks in the 21st century. I think Scots would be very proud, if this scheme does work.”

“I think it would be more dignified to have shopping vouchers, but the cost of food seems to increase by the week just now – would this new scheme be linked to inflation! The plan is laudable and the partnerships sound promising.”

“Vouchers would be a good idea, as these can be regulated as to not allow the voucher for cigarettes or drink or anything else that isn’t essential. Just giving people money to buy their essentials, would not work. Yes, some people would use it for the right reason, but a good few wouldn’t. More thought and consultation are needed.”

In contrast, some respondents believed that food vouchers could still create stigma, and people may feel uncomfortable using them for fear of being judged by staff and members of the public.

“Although there is huge stigma in going along to a food bank, I think there is equally considerable stigma surrounding handing over shopping vouchers, especially in supermarkets where there was a lot of other people around. I don’t know what the best answer is here, but I think it needs more consideration.”

“It is a start, but food vouchers are a no for me. It is stigmatising and stamps folk out as different.”

One respondent highlighted the social element of going to a food bank, which would be lost if this was replaced by shopping vouchers.

“I do however know that using food banks for many people brings with it a social aspect that food vouchers in normal high street shops would not. People I know using food banks do not go just for a bag or two of food but do spend time there socialising with likeminded individuals which clearly is of secondary but very important benefit to many. The use of food banks is clearly not just about obtaining food which I do not feel this Government plan has a grasp of and is perhaps rather simplistic!”

There was a specific comment about making food more affordable, as well as retailers introducing practices to reduce wastage.

“Major retailers should be made to lower the price of staple foods to a realistic price which might stop food being thrown out, I was told a couple of weeks ago by a manager of a “major supermarket” that they got a reprimand from the area manager because they didn’t have enough waste and were told to order more so their spoilage was greater as that could be written off. I found that shocking with so much food poverty in the world! It’s a mad, mad, mad world, the rich get richer and the poorer die of hunger.”

Conclusion

It was recognised that food banks provide a vital service for people who cannot afford shopping essentials. However, respondents shared their concerns about the continued need for food banks in order to address food poverty and insecurity. When reflecting on the actions featured in the draft national plan to end the need for food banks, respondents highlighted the importance of meaningful action to provide disabled people with greater financial assistance through social security payments. There was also support for the actions in relation to the Fair Work Plan, so that disabled people can access sustainable employment opportunities. There was a mixed response regarding shopping vouchers, with some respondents believing that this would allow people to choose the food that they want. However, in comparison, it was noted that food vouchers can also create stigma, through fear of judgment from retail staff and members of the public.