We Need to Talk About Foodbanks

We Need to Talk About Foodbanks

5th December 2022

We need to talk about foodbanks

by Sarah-Jayne Dunn, CAS policy manager, Financial Health team.

This column was first published in the Herald on 5 December 2022.

Foodbanks are a terrific example of local people pulling together to help their fellow citizens in times of crisis. CAB advisers refer people to foodbanks regularly, in cases where advice alone isn’t enough. The energy and commitment of their volunteers never fail to impress.

But I’m afraid to report that there’s a crisis growing in Scotland’s foodbank network. Put simply, they’re running low on food.

The main foodbank operators - like the Trussell Trust and IFAN - have recently issued desperate appeals for donations. Otherwise, they say, they’ll struggle to maintain their service.

It is understandable that food donations have tailed off as more and more of us are being hit by the growing cost of living ourselves. I’ve noticed, if I’m honest, that when I do a big shop at the supermarket I’m dropping one tin of soup into the foodbank box, instead of the two or three I might have put in a year or so ago. I suspect I’m not alone. (Note to self: an early New Year’s resolution to make my own wee contributions a bit bigger).

However, the foodbank crisis is not something that can be completely sorted by a rush of donations. Because it’s not a temporary shortage, it’s a long-term trend. The numbers of people needing foodbank support are increasing, while the numbers of donations are falling.

As a result, many foodbanks are at breaking point, not only in terms of having enough stock but also in terms of volunteers reaching burnout.

So what’s to be done? Well as individuals we can certainly all try and maximise what we drop in the box when we go shopping. Your local foodbanks will also accept donations of cash (though we’ve noticed that some supermarkets don’t give you the option to donate when you’re shopping online. Perhaps they could think about inserting a simple ‘d’you want to donate to our foodbank?’ button just before you checkout?)

However, we also need to look at the bigger picture and recognise that that foodbanks are not really a sustainable solution to the problem of food insecurity in the longer term. Nor is it fair for government to hand the responsibility of dealing with this crisis to voluntary organisations.

The Scottish Government has said it’s keen to end the need for foodbanks, or at least to stop them having to bear the burden of solving the current levels of food insecurity. Ministers are drawing up a National Delivery Plan for how they will do that.

CAS sits on the working group for this plan, which aims to ensure that everyone has a sufficient and secure income to be able to access food that meets their needs, and also that where financial hardship does occur, co-ordinated local cash-first responses will be sufficient to make foodbanks unnecessary.

It’s a clear, bold vision. However, the plan is yet to be launched, and its initiatives will take time to implement. Action is needed now. People are going without food now and that number is growing.

So, three cheers for all the great folk who work in Scotland’s foodbanks - and please help them out with donations if you can. But we also call on the government to start mobilising its delivery plan to end food insecurity. It can’t be put off a moment longer.