Food crisis is far from over, study warns

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The food insecurity crisis sparked by Covid-19 is set to enter a new phase, the Poverty and Inequality Commission has said 

9th June 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The food crisis which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown is far from over, a new study has warned.

The food insecurity crisis sparked by Covid-19 is set to enter a new phase that will require fresh action from the Scottish Government to alleviate, according to a report published this week by the Poverty and Inequality Commission.

A survey of frontline Scottish community organisations undertaken on behalf of the commission, the Scottish Government’s independent poverty advisers, by Glasgow Caledonian University, found that there have been improvements in emergency food aid provision from the start of lockdown thanks to the sheer hard work and commitment of the people and communities that worked around the clock to get supportive systems in place.

However, there is a sense the food insecurity crisis is far from over.  Community organisations report demand for food is increasing and believe it is likely to continue to rise.  This is attributed to more local people who were already feeling the constant pressure of poverty becoming aware of the help offered and more people being newly swept into poverty. Many organisations are at their full capacity and expressed doubts over whether everyone’s food needs are being met.  This anxiety is compounded by fears over future levels of funding and staffing concerns as volunteers return to full time work.

The research, conducted by the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at Glasgow Caledonian University, found:

• 65% of frontline organisations report demand for emergency food has risen over the past month, with 73% of organisations anticipating a further rise in demand

• 80% are concerned they are not reaching everyone in need of emergency food support

• 33% of organisations expect the amount of emergency food aid funding to reduce

• Nearly one-in-five organisations (18%) reported that staff wellbeing is worsening

• The majority of organisations are providing three or more forms of non-food-based support, including financial support (77%) and befriending and/or check-up calls (70%)

The commission is making three recommendations to Scottish Ministers on the basis of the findings to ensure emergency food aid continues to be delivered as effectively as possible: calling on the Scottish Government to provide more visible leadership to ensure that emergency food provision reaches those who need it; ministers should top up the Food Fund with what is required for as long as it is required; and officials must learn from the experience of central and local government, community organisations and those of lived experience of poverty to build a more resilient emergency food aid network that enables the recovery and renewal of Scottish communities

Bill Scott, chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, said: “The commission welcomes all that has been done so far by the Scottish Government, local authorities and the third sector to put in place emergency food assistance for those who need it most, including those trapped in poverty.

“We fully realise the pressure officials have been under and the hard work they are doing to ensure continued food provision.  They have performed near miracles by building on existing community food projects and establishing emergency provision so quickly from the outset of the lockdown.

 

“However, there is clear concern that Scotland’s food insecurity crisis is entering a new phase, which will require a redoubling of efforts to combat.  The Scottish Government needs to provide more visible leadership to give organisations the confidence that food needs will be met, while ensuring continued funding for vital food programmes.  This work must be undertaken in a spirit of continuous learning, so that more resilience is built into the system.  Only then will the right structures be in place to cope with fluctuations in demand that may arise from future spikes in the pandemic and safeguard access to food.”

Professor John McKendrick, from SPIRU, said: “We are greatly indebted to volunteers and workers from community groups for the work they are doing in delivering emergency food supplies. There is a real sense of pride that they are doing work that is needed at this time. However, we must also acknowledge that problems are now beginning to emerge. 

“Community organisations report that demand for emergency food has increased over the last month. And, they expect that this demand will continue to increase over the next month. Only 10% of groups felt they are currently reaching everyone in need.

"There are growing concerns about the wellbeing of volunteers and workers.  One in five expect that wellbeing will worsen over the next month and many report that we have reached a pinch point. There's a lot of stress on people in terms of what they are confronted with.

"There is also a great deal of uncertainty over whether there will be sufficient resources to deliver what Scotland needs in the months ahead.  Concerns are growing over access to funding and the amount of funding that is available to deliver."  

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know many households are facing significant financial pressures and have put a number of measures in place to help, including the £70 million Food Fund which supports people facing additional barriers in accessing food.

“Emergency food aid providers have played a vital role during this crisis, responding quickly and compassionately, often at grassroots level.

“This research provides valuable insight into their experiences and it is reassuring that they report that they have received the support needed.

“We recognise the concerns of organisations about continued funding as we move into the recovery and renewal phases.

“Beyond the immediate crisis, we are committed to working with partners to ending the need for emergency food aid in Scotland and ensuring everyone has sustainable access to the food they need.”

See this month’s TFN magazine for a special feature on the voluntary sector response to help keep Scotland fed during the crisis.