People are still struggling to get emergency food despite herculean efforts from community groups to reach them
Community groups are being hampered in their efforts to provide emergency food for Scotland's most vulnerable because of a lack of leadership from councils and national government.
Organisations are facing overwhelming demand to support people in need of food and meals, and some have had to use their financial reserves to buy supplies.
In a new report, Scotland’s Poverty and Inequality Commission says people need reassurance and clear communication about food provision during this pandemic and the aftermath. It is calling on the Scottish Government to adopt a similar approach to food security as it has to health advice, which has seen national advertising campaigns on TV and radio.
The report, which involved conversations with six community groups, explores how third sector organisations were able to rally to the aid of vulnerable people as soon as the Covid-19 crisis began to take hold. However, while many quickly transformed the way they work they have been “hampered by a lack of coordination of access to food and resources, communication and funding.”
It cites evidence of a rise in the number of food insecure households where poverty is being exacerbated by a lack of access to food, isolation and difficulties accessing services that were previously available, such as free school meals, community lunch clubs for the elderly, and foodbanks.
People are finding it difficult to access slots for shopping deliveries, particularly when their vulnerability status is not official. They are unble to find food for restricted diets, some lack available assistance to get food, and others don't know where to turn for assistance.
The Scottish Government launched a £70 million Food Fund on 18 March. A national helpline for high risk individuals also launched on 14 April providing advice on access to food and medication, amongst other issues.
Bill Scott, chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, said: “We really welcome the establishment of national helplines.
“However, the commission is concerned that some aspects of emergency food provision need to be better co-ordinated. Organisations working at the front line of the food crisis have told us of an overwhelming rise in demand for their help. This situation could be greatly improved through some oversight from the Scottish Government to ensure local efforts to relieve food insecurity are better coordinated.
“A single public spokesperson would also help ensure government action to address these issues is being clearly and regularly communicated to those in greatest need.”
Moray Food Plus is a significant provider of a range of services to people either experiencing or at risk of food insecurity. It works with partners to reduce local food waste and redistribute surplus food to the community.
As soon as lockdown was announced, it suspended its volunteering programme over fears it couldn’t keep people safe. This meant just three staff members were responding to a sudden and dramatic rise in demand.
Mairi McCallum, project manager at Moray Food Plus, said it had used reserves to purchase food initially, but had recently accessed funding. However, the organisation is also find difficult to source food and is having to pay significantly more for basics.
She told TFN: “Communication with the local authority has been minimal and we have not been involved in any strategic discussions relating to food so are unclear what the local plan is. We have established good partnerships with local community councils and community groups enabling us to change how we deliver services.”
She added: “Staff are concerned about the situation and the risks they face but limiting contact with the public and accessing hand sanitiser has helped. Our main concern is how long the crisis is going to last and the longer-term impact on our service and the people we support.”
Lindsay Graham, a member of the commission known for her work on food security issues, said: “Our recommendations to the Scottish Government have been made in the spirit of constructive criticism. We are asking them to provide the same sort of leadership on food security as they have already demonstrated in their public health responses. With the lockdown set to be extended, many more individuals and families will come closer to reaching their tipping point into crisis. Action now could help prevent that”.
The Scottish Government was asked for a response.