Hungry this Christmas: The families relying on food banks
Rice and custard, tinned fish, tinned meat. And toiletries. They always need just basic toiletries.
And carrier bags. They’re desperate for carrier bags, especially at this time of year.
Like other food banks, Glasgow South East foodbank, is getting busier.
Manager Audrey Flannagan has put this down partly to Christmas, and partly to the end of the uplift to Universal Credit.
“While there was a £20 uplift there was a drop in our figures, but since that’s been taken away, we’ve seen a steady increase, especially in single people.”
Between January and March 2020, ahead of the lockdown and before the top up, Flannagan says they had 601 Single people come in for help.
A year later, when the uplift was in place, that number had fallen to 157.
Now, numbers are staring to rise again, and staff and volunteers are starting to see familiar faces from pre-pandemic times. Flannagan says the real impact will be seen in January and February.
“It’s not just people who are living on benefits. I mean everything’s going up. Food’s up, fuel’s up. I don’t know how people are meant to manage to be quite honest,” she adds.
Donations, she says, are down between 30 and 40 per cent.
If people have any rice, custard, tinned fish, tinned meat, now might be the time to drop them off at their nearest foodbank.
“I fully expect by Christmas week we will be extremely busy again,” Flannagan says. “We always see more people coming in because, whether we think it’s good budgeting or not, people will spend on their children.”
She pauses. “Who wouldn’t? Why wouldn’t you spend on your child?”
Pre-Covid, food insecurity affected 7.6 per cent of adults across the UK, now it impacts 9.9 per cent, according to polling carried out for the Food Foundation.
The YouGov survey of more than 6,000 adults also reveals that there are significant regional variations. In Scotland, 10.3 per cent of adults reported food insecurity in the last six months, compared to more than 12 per cent in Wales and the north of England.
In the South East, it’s as low as 6.5 per cent.
There are regional variations in Scotland too. Dundee, Glasgow and Argyll and Bute have significantly higher levels of adults going hungry compared to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the Highlands.
A recent survey conducted by the Food Standards Agency indicates that almost one in five people had cut down meal sizes due to not having enough money.
Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs about food insecurity, with food bank use increasing almost four-fold between 2012–2013 and 2017–2018.
There are now over 2,000 food banks operating in the United Kingdom. In 2008 there were 29.
Despite the hike, recent research, conducted by the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at Glasgow Caledonian University, found that 80 per cent of frontline organisations in Scotland fear they are not reaching everyone in need of emergency food support.
Food insecurity is associated with a higher probability of coronary heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, all illnesses that Scotland is already battling.
Malnutrition rates among older people in Scotland are worsening. Official estimates identify one in 10 older people as being either malnourished or at risk of becoming so, frontline workers say it’s almost certainly closer to 30 per cent.
Preventing malnutrition is easy, all it needs is a healthy nutritious diet.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has been trying to take a draft bill through the parliament which would see the right to that diet enshrined in Scots law.
The Right to Food (Scotland) Bill would establish an independent statutory body to oversee food policy to ensure no one goes hungry in Scotland.
Scotland, as part of the UK, is signed up to international human rights laws protecting the right to food. However, it’s not incorporated into Scotland’s domestic laws, which means it cannot be directly enforced in court.
Effectively, if it passed, the Scottish Government would have responsibility for ensuring that food is available, accessible, and adequate for everyone. There would be a formal mechanism to ensure the right to food is taken into account systematically by the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament.
Campaigners have been calling for this for years.
Grant’s bill follows on from work started by her former MSP colleague Elaine Smith. However, in October when she asked the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee if she could carry on the bill using Smith’s consultation, SNP and Green members voted against.
One of the reasons given was that the two parties had backed right to food legislation as part of their co-operation agreement.
However, Grant is sceptical. She told Holyrood: “If that was the reason they objected to it they could have easily allowed the bill to go ahead, because once you table a bill the government can take it over if they’re going to legislate, so that doesn’t really hold up as a reason other than that if the government did take it over they would have to legislate within two years. So I suppose I fear the long grass here, that they don’t want to legislate within two years.”
“We live in a rich country, and people are still going hungry,” she adds. “We’ve seen food banks and things like community larders and we’ve also seen a rise in diseases caused by malnutrition. People are talking about an epidemic of obesity. We’re talking about some mild malnutrition illnesses we have not seen for many many years."
The cooperation document saw the two parties agree to bring forward a Human Rights Bill “which will give effect to international human rights law in Scots law, including a right to adequate food, as part of the overall right to an adequate standard of living to deliver a right to food”.
The Scottish Government insist they’re on track.
“The right to food is best considered as part of the Human Rights Bill,” a spokesman said. “This will give effect to a wide range of internationally recognised human rights in Scots law, as far as possible within devolved competence, including a right to adequate food, as part of the overall right to an adequate standard of living. We will consult on this bill this year.
“In addition, our Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill introduced on 7 October will provide an over-arching framework for clear, consistent and coherent future Scottish food policy.”
In October, the government launched a national plan to end the need for food banks.
Ministers are consulting on proposals to “pilot the use of shopping vouchers as an alternative option” to food parcels.
Social justice secretary Shona Robison said: “We share the same vision as food bank operators – they are not a long-term solution to poverty.
“Our draft plan sets out what we will do within our powers – including introducing a shopping voucher pilot scheme – to make food banks the last port of call.”
She said that over the last year, the Scottish Government has spent £2.5bn supporting low-income households, with almost £1bn targeted at helping children.
She added: “Despite our fixed budget and limited powers we are taking action to support those in poverty, including discussions around establishing a minimum income guarantee for Scotland.
“As part of the right to an adequate standard of living, people need to be able to access food that meets their dietary, social and cultural needs and this plan shows the way forward.”