Food poverty in Scotland worse than food bank figures suggest, warn experts
A sharp rise in the use of food banks underestimates the full extent of worsening food poverty in Scotland, according to a major study.
Organisations that provide day-to-day care and support to some of the most vulnerable groups in society are coming across an increasing number of people not previously affected by food insecurity.
However, experts have described food bank data as “patchy and incomplete” when it comes to estimating prevalence, with a number of people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families refusing food bank referrals.
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Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow were part of a team commissioned by Community Food and Health (Scotland) to consider food poverty north of the border, in particular during the recent recession, with more than two dozen experienced professionals and volunteers working with various vulnerable groups throughout Scotland interviewed.
In-work poverty and welfare reforms were cited as the primary reasons for more people struggling with food insecurity than in the past, with benefit sanctions identified as a particular problem.
Rollout of Universal Credit – a single monthly payment which merges a number of benefits and tax credits – is “likely to make a bad situation worse”, according to many of those interviewed.
Families with young children, mothers and pregnant women give particular cause for concern, though groups known to be affected by food insecurity prior to 2007 are said to be increasing in number, seeking help more frequently and for longer periods, noted the report.
Latest figures released by the Trussell Trust revealed a 65 per cent year-on-year increase in food bank use north of the border with a three-day emergency food supply provided in 117,689 instances in 2014-15.
However, there should be less reliance on such data from food banks to estimate the prevalence of household level food insecurity, researchers cautioned, with figures “inappropriate as a source of data on need”.
Instead, means and measures by which the experience and impact of food insecurity can be captured and recorded for future monitoring is “urgently required”.
Government and the public health care system have also been urged to put in place a way of monitoring the “dietary adequacy and appropriateness” of food offered through the likes of food banks “to safeguard against it exacerbating existing chronic health conditions and/or dietary requirements”.
According to the study, poorer households spent almost twice the proportion of their household income on food and drink compared to wealthier ones, though both failed to meet Scottish Dietary Goals set by government based on nutrition advice.
“The qualitative accounts of the range of groups, previously not known to care service providers, who are reported as being in need of emergency food aid, with some finding it difficult to manage to survive without subsequent visits to food banks, fits with a picture of a situation that is getting worse,” added the report.