People could be given shopping vouchers as an alternative to having to go to food banks, under Scottish Government plans.(C) Food laid out in crates at a food bank in north London.
Ministers are consulting on proposals which aim to end the need for food banks in Scotland. The consultation document, which is open until January, says that "while the compassion of volunteers across Scotland is commendable, food parcels are rarely able to meet dietary, social and cultural needs and preferences" and instead, it should be ensured that everyone has enough income to afford food that meets their needs. It states that referring people in need to such centres is often the "most practical way to support them to access food", but it points out the emergency parcels they receive are "rarely able to meet dietary, social and cultural needs and preference".
The Scottish Government now proposes to "pilot the use of shopping vouchers as an alternative option". Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: "We share the same vision as food bank operators - they are not a long term solution to poverty. Our draft plan sets out what we will do within our powers - including introducing a shopping voucher pilot scheme - to make food banks the last port of call.
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"Over the last year we have invested around GBP2.5 billion to support low income households, including nearly GBP1 billion to directly support children.
Despite our fixed budget and limited powers we are taking action to support those in poverty, including discussions around establishing a minimum income guarantee for Scotland. "As part of the right to an adequate standard of living, people need to be able to access food that meets their dietary, social and cultural needs and this plan shows the way forward." It comes amid fears the number of people struggling to feed themselves and their families could rise, with the UK Government having recently ended the GBP20 uplift to Universal Credit brought in to help people cope during the Covid pandemic.
Sabine Goodwin, co-ordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, which represents more than 500 food banks across the UK, said: "As the cut to Universal Credit and cost of living increases exacerbate poverty in Scotland, the publication of the draft national plan to end the need for food banks couldn't be more timely.
"With a cash first, collaborative approach to food insecurity as the cornerstone of this plan, a time when food banks will no longer be needed to plug the gaps left by financial hardship is within sight."