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Tackling food poverty

Published: 19 Oct 2015 00:01

New group to explore ways to reduce reliance on foodbanks.

The scourge of food poverty and possible solutions to Scotland's increasing reliance on foodbanks will be investigated by a new group.

Representatives from poverty organisations and charities will convene on Monday for the first meeting of the short life working group, to identify the issues which push people into food poverty and discuss how they can be addressed.

The group, chaired by the Secretary of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, has been asked to make recommendations to the Scottish Government by February 2016 on the actions required to eradicate food poverty in Scotland.

The first meeting coincides with the Poverty Alliance's annual Challenge Poverty Week which runs from October 17 to 23 and aims to challenge the stereotypes around poverty and increase public support to combat it.

The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust show that a total of 117,689 people picked up a three-day supply of groceries from their Scottish foodbanks in 2014-15. Of those, 36,114 were children. This is more than eight times the number helped just two years ago.

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said: "It is heart breaking that anyone should be left hungry and unable to afford to feed their families in a country as prosperous as Scotland.

"UK Government welfare cuts and benefit sanctions have continually pushed more and more people into food poverty and increased the demand and number of food banks in Scotland. This shocking trend has to stop.

"By bringing together a range of experts who support people in food poverty we hope the group will come up with a food strategy that will reduce the need for foodbanks over time.

"Food poverty cannot be solved overnight which is why the group will look at how we can address some of its long-term causes and whether we can take a more joined up approach to welfare benefits advice, health and employment support services.

"I look forward to hearing the group's recommendations on how we can ease the pressure on food banks, tackle food poverty and create a fairer Scotland."

The Scottish Government currently invests £1 million into the Emergency Food Action Plan which helps support 26 local emergency food aid projects and the charity Fareshare to redistribute surplus food from retailers to communities across Scotland.

The group's recommendations will feed into the Scottish Government's Social Justice Action Plan. This will be published in the new year with milestones to the next Parliament and beyond to help tackle poverty and create fairer opportunities for all.

The chair of the group, Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, said: "I am delighted to be chairing this independent Working Group on Food Poverty, whilst appalled that in a country as wealthy as Scotland the number of people going hungry is increasing by thousands each year.

"Our starting point will be that we need to reverse that trend. The group will bring together people with a wide variety of experiences of tackling food poverty including, critically, those with direct experience of what it means not to have enough for you and your family.

"I hope that together we can highlight what is working, what needs to change and what the Scottish Government and others can do to bring about a hunger free Scotland."

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance said: "The growth of foodbanks in recent years is the surest sign that we need to do more to tackle poverty in Scotland.

"Challenge Poverty Week is aimed at highlighting that solutions to poverty do exist, and the work that volunteers across Scotland do week in and out providing emergency food aid shows that people are committed to tackling the scandal of food poverty.

"But it is necessary that we find longer term solutions to food poverty. So we welcome the Scottish Government convening this new group to find lasting solutions to the problem. Through it we will be able to draw on the experience and expertise of those volunteering in foodbanks, people using emergency food aid and those involved in community food projects to make a real difference in the future."

Notes to editors

More information about the Fairer Scotland discussions and Social Justice Action Plan is available at: www.fairer.scot

The short life working group is comprised of representatives from the Church of Scotland, Poverty Truth Commission, Fareshare, Nourish, Oxfam, Poverty Alliance, Trussell Trust, Big Lottery, STV Appeal, The Robertson Trust, The Hunter Foundation, Bridging the Gap, local government and the Food Commission. The group will meet in Edinburgh on Monday.

The Trussell Trust system records the number of adults and children given three days' emergency food, it does not measure unique users on a national scale. However, recent detailed evidence collected from a range of foodbanks indicates that on average 49 per cent of foodbank users only needed one foodbank voucher in a year, and that only 15 per cent needed help more than three times in a year. On average, people needed two foodbank vouchers in a year.

More information about Challenge Poverty Week is available at: http://www.povertyalliance.org/challenge_poverty

Scotland's 'National Food and Drink Policy; Becoming a Good Food Nation' aims to ensure everyone in Scotland has access to the healthy, nutritious food they need: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Business-Industry/Food-Industry/national-strategy/good-food-nation