A Menu for Change: Cash, Rights, Food is a three-year project established in 2017, funded from the National Lottery Community Fund, and managed by Oxfam Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and Nourish Scotland. The project is a response to the growth of emergency food aid and the levels of hunger and extreme poverty in Scotland, taking forward recommendations of the Independent Short Life Working Group on Food Poverty. A Menu for Change aims to: improve policy and practice responses to food insecurity; reduce the need for emergency food aid; and better understand and address the root causes of the problem.
The work of A Menu for Change includes:
▪ Working with local partners to improve food insecurity policy and practice in three local authorities: Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife;
▪ Supporting local people and organisations to pilot new initiatives to better tackle food insecurity, with a focus on how to prevent it;
▪ Bringing together different groups from across Scotland to share best practice in responding to food insecurity;
▪ Researching the scale, drivers and experiences of food insecurity to better understand the problem and how to address it; and
▪ Using our experience, learning and evidence to influence local, Scottish and UK policy change.
This paper builds on evidence from our work to date, including our soon-to-be-published [2 October 2019] qualitative longitudinal research project with 40 individuals facing acute food insecurity, as well as our practice development activities in Fife, Dundee and East Ayrshire. More information and publications from A Menu for Change are available at www.menuforchange.org.uk.
In this submission, we specifically focus on the following questions:
• What are the key causes of food insecurity in the UK? Can you outline any significant trends in food insecurity in the UK?
• To what extent (and why) have these challenges persisted over a number of years?
• What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?
What are the key causes of food insecurity in the UK? Can you outline any significant trends in food insecurity in the UK?
Evidence shows that people turn to food aid as a last resort when they face an acute income crisis caused by problems with the benefits system (including benefit changes, delayed payments, sanctions and administrative errors), as well as low pay and insecure work.3 Delays in receiving benefit payments, often following benefit changes, which leave people with no income have been widely linked to food bank use. Research found that 40% of food bank users had recently made a new benefit claim and were waiting for a decision or payment. Almost one in five of those had been waiting for seven weeks or more.5 The same study also found that one in six food bank users is from a household where at least one adult is in work.
It is widely recognised that food insecurity is driven by low and insecure incomes which are unable to match the cost of living. In Canada, where food insecurity is routinely measured, low income is consistently identified as a predictor of food insecurity, and studies have also shown that income and employment changes within households are associated with changes in the severity of food insecurity. In the UK, the 2016 Food and You Survey identified adults with incomes in the bottom quartile and adults who were unemployed or economically inactive as significantly more likely to be food insecure than those with higher incomes or those who were working. However, people in work were also found to be affected, with 7% reporting moderate or severe food insecurity.
Living for extended periods on low incomes makes it difficult to withstand even minor financial shocks, with small changes such as delays in receiving benefit payments identified as causing people to fall into destitution or requiring help from a food bank. Cuts to public spending, rising living costs and significant changes to the social security system over the past decade have been closely linked to increases in poverty and inequality across the UK. The benefit freeze, in place since 2016, has eroded incomes from working-age benefits, with people in poverty in 2019 on average £340 a year worse off as a result of the freeze. The two-child limit, which restricts child allowances in Universal Credit and tax credits to the first two children in a family, is predicted to push a further 300,000 children into poverty by 2024. In addition, restrictions in housing allowances mean Housing Benefit and Universal Credit are less likely to fully cover claimants’ rent. Given those on low incomes spend disproportionately more on essentials such as food, when incomes do not keep pace with prices, they are forced to cut back on the basics, thereby being put at risk of hardship.
Universal Credit, the flagship policy of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, has been linked to increased demand for food banks and homelessness risks.13 The new benefit is also predicted to push 200,000 out-of-work families into poverty. The built in five-week wait period before initial payment, as well as payment delays caused by administrative error, have been evidenced as causing increases in debt, arrears and extreme hardship. While advance payments are available to cover the initial wait time, research among food bank users identified these payments were often too low and the rate of repayments at unaffordable levels, leaving users struggling to meet basic needs. The fact advance payments must be repaid further depresses incomes over an extended period of time. Increased conditionality in UC also means longer, more severe sanctions which are quicker to be applied. Furthermore, some people on low income or part time hours are expected to increase their earnings or look for additional hours to receive the benefit. It is reported that UC conditionality is being applied more strictly, with higher sanction rates than Jobseeker’s Allowance.
“I’ve been on Universal Credit for two years and I’ve had three breaks in work and I’ve had nothing.
Oh, I was sent a cheque for one pence and that was to do me a month”
It has been widely evidenced that people with disabilities have been particularly adversely affected by welfare reforms, putting them at increased risk of hardship. A review of the impact of welfare reforms found families with disabled adults and disabled children have faced the largest financial loss in cash terms compared to any other household type. The same report found people with mental health conditions have experienced higher rates of sanctioning, exacerbating their existing challenges. People with disabilities are over-represented among food bank users, a group who are more likely to have experienced a change in benefits following a medical assessment. In A Menu for Change’s own research, people with disabilities who have used food banks have spoken about failing medical assessments, having to cope with a sudden drop in their income, and not getting the right information or support to manage the appeals process.
Evidence also shows that not only those reliant on income replacement benefits, but also people in work are increasingly struggling to make ends meet and face food insecurity. Four million workers live in poverty, a rise of over half a million over five years. It has been reported that low-paid and insecure work, particularly for those working on zero-hour contracts or described as working in the ‘gig economy’, can leave people without sufficient income to cover basic living costs. Indeed, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned of a rise in ‘in-work destitution’, albeit from a low base.
Alongside the social security policy changes, which have a cumulative effect on household incomes, broader changes in public spending and policy priorities are likely to play a significant role in the rise of food insecurity. A period of austerity-led policy-making has meant significant reductions in public sector spending, with cuts being felt more harshly in the most deprived areas. As a result of dramatically reduced funding to local government, preventative services in key areas such as adult social care, child social care and housing have seen considerable pressure. Concern has also been raised about the levels of spending on mental health services, waiting times for assessments and the capacity of services to cope with demand.24 Reducing spending on preventative services has been linked to an increased demand for crisis support, including homelessness services, and to children being taken into care.25 New Longitudinal Research Findings (Report submitted)
A Menu for Change has recently completed research which sought to take a longer and more holistic view of people’s circumstances to better understand the contexts in which severe food insecurity emerged. The report underscores the importance of an adequate and secure income. It explores how people’s circumstances change following an experience of severe food insecurity. The study identifies the longer-term financial and psychological difficulties, as well as the wider context of ill-health and disability, experienced by people facing severe food insecurity. It points to the systematic and structural drivers of food insecurity, while highlighting ways in which timely intervention by a range of services could have helped improve outcomes for individuals who took part in this project.
The research identified 40 individuals with recent (during the previous two-weeks) experience of acute food insecurity (having no money for food). Participants were recruited from three local authorities: Fife, Dundee and East Ayrshire. Four to six weeks after the first interview, all participants were approached for a second interview (22 were carried out). Third and final interviews were held a year on from the first meeting (10 were carried out). Hunger, going days without eating, was a strikingly common experience. Such severe food insecurity was found to affect interviewees’ physical health, mental health and overall sense of well-being. The findings provide further insights into the pathways people take that result in food insecurity. This underscores the impact of insecure, unstable and unpredictable incomes. Sudden drops in income or complete loss of income through changes in work hours, moving out of work, or changing benefits are key triggers for quickly becoming severely food insecure and being unable to meet basic costs such as rent or heating.
These changes in circumstances often led to the accumulation of rent arrears and debts, which extended the experience of food insecurity and made it very difficult to recover. These findings point to the inadequacies of incomes from benefits and wages at the bottom end of the labour market, making it difficult to build up any savings which might help provide a buffer against sudden drops in income and enable people to manage their priority payments (including rent, energy and food) when experiencing a change in circumstances. The findings echo existing evidence of the role of UC in exposing people to destitution, particularly because of the waiting time for initial payment and the high rate at which deductions are made. Disability benefit reassessments also triggered food insecurity, through a loss of income.
“Since I’ve been put on Universal Credit I come [to the food bank] more regular … like taking food away with us. I never used to do that because I was able to manage with money” Natalie, Dundee
Importantly, the findings draw attention to the precarious nature of the labour market, specifically for agency workers and those on zero-hours or temporary contracts, as a key driver of food insecurity. Moving in and out of temporary work often meant moving in and out of severe food insecurity. Not knowing how much money they would receive each month made it impossible to plan ahead and was a cause of anxiety for many interviewees.
“You don’t know if he’s gonna’ go in today and come back without a job”
There are clear policy implications for protecting people from frequent and dramatic changes in income at points of transition in their lives. These include:
▪ ensuring incomes from both work and benefits are adequate, stable and reliable;
▪ increasing the availability of secure contracts with guaranteed hours and employment standards;
▪ providing better support for people who develop ill health to remain in the labour market, and protecting them from income crisis when they are unable to do so; and
▪ ensuring that the social security system serves as a responsive and reliable safety net, recognising current insecurities in the labour market, so that, when people transition onto or between benefits, adequate protection is in place to prevent the change in circumstances from causing people to fall into crisis.
For interviewees, food insecurity was often closely connected to deeply personal, highly traumatic life events and was experienced within a context of significant health difficulties as well as caring responsibilities. These findings underline the importance of taking a holistic approach to understanding and responding to food insecurity, recognising that decisions take in isolation, for example in relation to benefit entitlement, often interact with an individual's wider life circumstances. They also point to the need for early, preventative intervention by a wide range of services.
“Obviously my main priority’s making sure my kids are fed. And if it’s the difference between me getting fed or them getting fed, then it’s them obviously” Kerry, East Ayrshire
The experiences of individuals engaged in this research highlight critical events and transitions, including bereavement, childhood abuse, homelessness, leaving the armed forces and leaving care, which can leave people vulnerable to food insecurity. To help prevent the long-term negative effects of adverse life experiences, including vulnerability to food insecurity, there is a need for services (including health, social care, housing and advice) to be sensitive and responsive to the ways in which such experiences can impact on people throughout their lives. Early interventions which provide a holistic needs assessment, including the provision of income maximisation and advice, could help improve outcomes for vulnerable individuals.
“When my dad passed away, everything just kinda fell apart”
Blair, East Ayrshire
The interviewees expressed reluctance to access crisis support, and the sense of shame associated with asking for help. The experiences of interviewees highlight the crucial role played by a range of services which might not necessarily see themselves at the forefront of tackling food insecurity including health, education, childcare, housing, advice and community organisations.
To what extent (and why) have these challenges persisted over a number of years?
A relatively marginal activity in the early 2000s, there are now more than 2,000 food banks providing parcels of emergency food aid to people in need across the UK. Between April 2017 and September 2018, almost half a million food parcels were provided in Scotland alone. However, the growth in food bank use in the UK has also prompted researchers and policy-makers to consider the broader issue of food insecurity as it is experienced at an individual or household level. Food insecurity is defined as the inability to access adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the anxiety that one will not be able to do so in the future. It captures the experience of having insufficient and insecure financial resources to meet basic needs. Food insecurity is recognised as ranging from mild (worrying about running out of money for food), through moderate (skipping meals or cutting back on food), to severe (going whole days without eating).
In the UK, household food insecurity is not routinely measured. However, the 2017 Scottish Health Survey included questions, for the first time, on food insecurity. Some 8% of adults reported they were worried they would run out of food due to a lack of money or resources, rising to 20% among single adult households, and 21% for single parents. Other studies have also found these household types to be over-represented among those facing persistent poverty,32 food insecurity and other forms of deprivation. A study by the Trussell Trust found lone parents and their children constitute the largest number of people receiving help from food banks, though single male households are the most common household type.33 Elsewhere, JRF research found the group most at risk of destitution in the UK to be young, single men. People with disabilities have also been found to be over-represented among food bank users, and mental health conditions are identified as particularly prevalent among those experiencing destitution.
The new 2018 Scottish Health Survey showed a year-on-year increase in the proportion of adults who experienced food insecurity (defined as being worried during the past 12 months that they would run out of food due to lack of money or resources). 3% of adults said they had run out of food because of a lack of resources. In the most deprived areas, 16% of adults had been worried they would run out of food with 12% saying they had eaten less than they should and 7% saying that they had run out of food for this reason.
What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?
People in communities across the UK have responded incredibly to the growing humanitarian need, whether by volunteering at a foodbank or donating cash and food. Yet there is widespread agreement that foodbanks should not need to exist; everyone should have enough money to buy food and other essentials. A Menu for Change is focused on improving people’s access to the cash people need to buy sufficient food. This is because hunger in the UK is caused by poverty, not a shortage of food. We therefore need to do more to prevent people reaching the point of hunger by tackling the underlying causes of income crises. Unless this happens, the need for emergency food aid is likely to continue to grow. Yet, as services which are largely dependent upon donations and volunteers, food banks are not able to guarantee a consistent quality of service or quality and quantity of food to meet an individual’s dietary needs. Research has also identified the experiences of shame and social isolation associated with having to turn to food banks for help, with many people choosing to go hungry rather than use one:
“I wouldn’t do it at all. A wee bit of pride. Standing in a queue for food? No, standing in a queue and
paying for your food, that’s it. A wee bit more respect. I’d rather pay for it” Arthur, Glasgow37
Such findings are echoed by other research38, including our longitudinal research. This points to the inadequacy of food aid as an effective, sustainable or dignified response to hardship. We believe there is a short window of opportunity to prevent foodbanks from becoming entrenched. Canada has had food banks for more than 30 years and the experience there illustrates the shortcomings of an approach which relies on them to provide a social safety net. The experience in Canada suggests that once foodbanks become embedded as part of the welfare system, there is no turning back. We do not want that to happen in the UK, so we need to prove there’s a better way before it is too late.
Through our activities in Dundee, Fife and East Ayrshire, we have identified that many services, including social work, health care providers and community centres, make referrals to food banks without being aware of what other support is available. Our longitudinal research also highlights that people accessing emergency food aid often have little awareness of other forms of crisis support which are available or struggle to navigate the social security system, particularly in the context of the roll out of UC. There is a need for better referral procedures to ensure food bank referrals are only made when other cashbased and more sustainable responses have been exhausted or unavailable. There is a clear need to improve awareness and availability of both public and third sector advice services to prevent acute income crises and reduce the need for emergency food aid.
A Menu for Change is testing different models to improve the local safety net through seven pilot projects across Scotland. They include the following initiatives:
▪ Engaging a drop-in support worker based in a community centre in Dundee, which is the most frequent referrer to the local food bank. The centre aims to reduce the number of people referred to the food bank and increase engagement with services to help prevent future crisis.
▪ Training non-specialised support and advice services in Dundee to improve the quality of advice, make appropriate referrals and maximise income.
▪ Establishing a free telephone advice line for people at food bank referral agencies across rural East Ayrshire so people can get advice on income entitlement and access to support services.
▪ Supporting two community groups to set up community buying clubs in Fife and East Ayrshire that reduce and spread the cost of essentials; enable members of the community to support each other; and encourage early support from local services for people at risk of crisis.
Effective and accessible statutory support
Alongside improved coordination, we must also do more to ensure statutory support is readily available to people in urgent financial need. Unfortunately, some of these have also been subject to significant reforms in recent years. Hardship payments are reduced-rate benefit payments made to people who have had their benefits sanctioned and can evidence that they are otherwise destitute. Importantly, unlike hardship payments for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), under UC hardship payments made during a sanction period have to be repaid, currently at a rate of 40% of monthly UC standard allowances. Using Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) published data, Dr David Webster has calculated that the proportion of sanctioned UC claimants receiving hardship payments is far lower than under JSA or ESA. Benefit claimants are also entitled to advance payments if they are facing hardship, either after making a new claim or because their benefit cannot be paid on the due date. An advance payment is paid as a loan which has to be paid back from future benefit payments. Under UC, advance payments have been used to compensate for the five week wait for initial payments, as well as other delays and administrative errors. Given evidence of the role of repaying debts in causing destitution, the JRF concludes the widespread use of UC advance payments “fuels on-going hardship”.40
Another feature of UK welfare reform has been the abolition of the discretionary Social Fund’s provision of crisis loans and community care grants to people facing financial crisis. Responsibility for providing such discretionary welfare assistance was devolved to a local level in England. In the absence of sustained central government funding or support, crisis support spending has fallen by over 80% since
2011 in some areas, while 22 local authorities have been identified as no longer operating an assistance scheme at all. The absence of local welfare assistance schemes in England has been linked to increased pressure on food banks.
It is necessary to highlight some distinct features of social security policy in Scotland, the package of which has expanded following the devolution of some social security powers. These policies include full mitigation of the Bedroom Tax,43 and Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants delivered through the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF). Following the scrapping of the Social Fund at a UK level, the Scottish Government established the SWF using the £23.8 million Social Fund budget from the UK Government topped up by £9.2 million. The SWF is delivered by local authorities based on guidance from the Scottish Government, underpinned by legislation.44 Data shows that food is the item for which by far the most SWF Crisis Grants are awarded, highlighting the extent to which people accessing the Fund are struggling to meet their basic needs. While the SWF provides a vital lifeline for many, the need for it to be better resourced to meet demand effectively has been recognised.46 A Menu for Change research identified varying practice in delivery of the SWF across Scotland and raised concerns regarding its capacity to support everyone who could be using it.47
New devolved powers include control over the delivery of eleven different welfare benefits which, at the time of their devolution, made up 15 per cent of the overall social security budget for Scotland. Social Security Scotland is a new agency established to deliver the devolved benefits on core principles of
“dignity, fairness and respect”. In June 2019, the Scottish Government announced a new benefit – the Scottish Child Payment – would be rolled out to all eligible children by 2022. In the recent Programme for Government, it was announced this will open for applications in autumn 2020, with the first payments reaching families by Christmas of that year. 
The Scottish Government has also developed a number of strategies to respond to food insecurity. In 2015, an independent short-life working group on food poverty was commissioned, which made a series of recommendations. In response, the Scottish Government committed to consider enshrining the Right to Food in domestic law, a policy which is likely to be included in the forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill. Money has also been invested in local responses to food insecurity, via the Fair Food Transformation Fund, to encourage more preventative, holistic interventions.52 Further information: www.menuforchange.org.uk or 0141 285 8877.
1 October 2019
 Short Life Working Group on Food Poverty (2016): https://www.gov.scot/publications/dignity-ending-hunger-togetherscotland-report-independendent-working-group-food/ 3 Loopstra & Laydor (2017):
 http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/doc.housing.org.uk/Universal_Credit_impact_on_rent_arrears.pdf 5 Loopstra & Laylor (2017)
 Loopstra and Lalor; Dowler, et al. Poverty Bites: Food, Health and Poor Families. London: CPAG.
 Loopstra and Tarasuk (2013). Severity of household food insecurity is sensitive to change in household income and employment status among low-income families. Journal of Nutrition. 143(8):1316-23.
 Bates, B., et al., (2016) Food and You Survey Wave 4, https://www.food.gov.uk/research/food-and-you/food-and-you-wavefour
 Fitzpatrick, et al. (2018a); Perry et al (2014).
 Fitzpatrick, et al., (2018b); https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/comms/R114.pdf.
 Barnard, H., (2019a) https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/end-benefit-freeze-stop-people-being-swept-poverty.
 http://www.cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/All%20Kids%20Count%20report%20FINAL_0.pdf. 13 Fitzpatrick, et al., (2018b); Trussell Trust (2017) Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Food Banks, https://www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/04/Early-Warnings-Universal-Credit-and-Foodbanks.pdf.
 Barnard, H. (2019b) Where next for Universal Credit and tackling poverty? Joseph Rowntree Foundation, https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/where-next-universal-credit-and-tackling-poverty.
 https://www.cas.org.uk/system/files/publications/rent_arrears_oct_2018.pdf; http://s3-eu-west-
 .amazonaws.com/doc.housing.org.uk/Universal_Credit_impact_on_rent_arrears.pdf; https://www.housing.org.uk/press/press-releases/flawed-universal-credit-causing-debt-hardship-families-in-social-housing/.
 Jitendra, A., et al. (2018) Left Behind: Is Universal Credit truly universal? https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/trusselltrustdocuments/Trussell-Trust-Left-Behind-2018.pdf.
 Webster, D. (2019) Benefits Sanctions Statistics May 2019. www.cpag.org.uk/davidwebster.
 Loopstra & Laylor (2017)
 Barnard, H. (2018) UK Poverty 2018, https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2018.
 Bailey, N. (2018) ‘Employment, poverty and social exclusion’, in: Bramley, G. and Bailey, N. (eds) Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK Volume 2 – The dimensions of disadvantage, pp. 159–78. Bristol: Policy Press; Child Poverty Action Group (2017) The Austerity Generation: The impact of a decade of cuts on family incomes and child poverty. London: Child Poverty Action Group.
 Fitzpatrick, et al. (2018a).
 https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/cost-cuts-impact-local-government-and-poorer-communities. 24 https://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/uploads/docs/report/2018/nr_180913_mental_health_pr.pdf; http://www.improvementservice.org.uk/documents/em_briefing_notes/em-briefing-mental-health-strategy.pdf. 25 https://www.npi.org.uk/files/7715/3669/7306/A_quiet_crisis_final.pdf.
 Loopstra, R. and Lalor, D. (2017) Financial Insecurity, Food Insecurity, and Disability. Available from: https://www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/07/OU_Report_final_01_08_online2.pdf.
 Independent Food Aid Network (2019). http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/independent-food-banks-map.
 A Menu for Change and Independent Food Aid Network (2019) Emergency Food Parcel Provision in Scotland April 2017 to
September 2018, https://menuforchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Emergency-Food-Parcel-Provision-in-ScotlandApr-2017-to-Sep-2018.pdf.)
 Radimer, K. L. (2002) Measurement of household food security in the USA and other industrialised countries, Public Health Nutrition, 5(6), pp. 859–64.
 Three questions were used from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale.
 https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-health-survey-2017-volume-1-main-report/ 32 Barnard, et al. (2018). UK Poverty 2018. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2018 33 Loopstra and Lalor.
 Fitzpatrick, et al., (2018a).
 Loopstra and Lalor; Fitzpatrick, et al., (2018a).
 https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Health/scottish-health-survey 37 Glasgow Community Health and Wellbeing Research Programme (2016): http://www.gowellonline.com/assets/0000/3896/BP28_food_banks_web.pdf 38 Garthwaite (2016) Hunger Pains
 Webster, D. (2019) Benefit sanctions, social citizenship and the economy, Local Economy, 34(3), pp. 316–26. 40 Barnard (2019b).
 Greater Manchester Poverty Action (2018) https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/local-welfare-assistance-scheme/.
 Trussell Trust (2017) https://www.trusselltrust.org/2017/07/04/local-welfare-provision-local-jigsaw/. 43 https://news.gov.scot/news/bedroom-tax-mitigation 44 Scottish Parliament Information Centre (2014).
 Scottish Government (2018) http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/swf/SWF31Dec2017. 46 https://www.parliament.scot/S5_Social_Security/Inquiries/20180622_ConvToMin_ScottishWelfareFund.pdf 47 https://menuforchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Menu-for-Change-Scottish-Welfare-Fund-2019.pdf.
 https://www.gov.scot/publications/dignity-ending-hunger-together-scotland-report-independendent-working-group-food/. 52 An independent review of the fund: https://www.gov.scot/publications/review-fair-food-transformation-fund/.