Despite an economy that ranks alongside some of the strongest in Europe, poverty in Scotland persists. The most recent figures released by the Scottish Government show that around one in ten Scots are currently living in ‘extreme’ poverty after housing costs (that is, with a household income below 40% of the UK median).
This situation is compounded by the fact that food prices across the UK rose by 8% in real terms between 2007 and 2015, according to the latest figures released by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Because those on low incomes spend a greater proportion of their income on food than their wealthier peers such a hike in prices is particularly challenging for this group to cope with, leading to increased levels of food insecurity amongst those who are already struggling to get by.
One organisation working to tackle hunger across the UK is FareShare, who redistribute surplus food from the food industry to a network of community projects known as Community Food Members (CFMs) that provide meals to those in need. In order to build a greater understanding of the benefits of food redistribution, ScotCen explored some of the potential impacts of receiving food with over 1,000 vulnerable people who attend CFMs.
Meals produced using redistributed food help to meet the nutritional needs of those who are often unable to afford to eat. More than half of those who currently receive food from FareShare regularly eat their main meal of the day at the CFM they attend, and 81% have been able to increase the number of hot meals they eat. Further, around half of those visiting FareShare CFMs report being able to access more nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables, bread, and cereals than they would otherwise.
But meals from CFMs provide vulnerable people with more than just nutritional benefits. Respondents reported positive changes to their mental wellbeing, with meals seen as providing an opportunity to meet friends, socialise and feel part of a community. Over a third of respondents receive meals with their children, with 80% of this group highlighting the value of being able to eat together as a family. Three-quarters of respondents also told us they had saved money as a result of receiving redistributed food, allowing them not only to pay for essentials such as bills and clothing, but to participate more fully in society by visiting family and friends, seeking employment and travelling to work.
Understanding how people experience and respond to food insecurity is vital to improving public policy in this area. Work is ongoing to accurately gauge how many people in Scotland are struggling to access food, with ScotCen collaborating with the Scottish Government to incorporate a robust food insecurity scale into its annual Scottish Health Survey. In the meantime, organisations such as FareShare continue to have a real effect upon the lives of those who are affected by poverty and social disadvantage, with the benefits of food provision shown to extend far beyond improving nutrition.