Ending the Need for Food Banks: Consultation on a Draft National Plan for Scotland

Submitted to the Scottish Government, January 25, 2022

In response to the Scottish Government’s request for consultation on the practical actions the Scottish Government and other actors can take to end the need for food banks, the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food Health and Social Justice responded to the following questions put forth by the Scottish Government in October 2022. The consultation period closed at the end of January 2022.  The Scottish Government will consider all responses it received to the consultation questions in developing a final version of a national plan which will be published in late 2022. 

1.Do you think that the approach outlined is consistent with the vision to end poverty and the need for food banks? Is there anything else you think should be included? [Y/N/Don’t Know] [Open comment


We present this submission on behalf of the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice (GSA), a group of non-governmental organisations, national networks, grassroots activists, and scholars developing a shared analysis of, and reaction to, the increased institutionalisation and corporatisation of charitable food in rich but unequal countries such as the UK, the US, and Canada. The exponential rise of institutionalised corporate food banking, private philanthropy, food banks, and other “emergency measures” originated in the United States and became permanent responses to poverty and food insecurity. This approach spread to Canada and since the mid 1980s has steadily advanced across Europe and other parts of the globe.

Emergency or charitable food aid solutions have never addressed the root causes of food insecurity. To the contrary, leaving the matter to charity exacerbates poverty by allowing governments and citizens to consider the problem solved, and to ignore income policies and basic human rights. This creates greater openings for the corporate capture of public policy and funding, and further contributes to the dismantling of social security systems and solutions that strike at the root causes of persistent food insecurity. The patterns of harmful policies that have taken hold in North America are being replicated without criticism in European Countries, the OECD, and beyond. 

Our vision at GSA includes a directive which suggests “Charitable food banks and other food aid providers develop exit strategies while promoting alternative solutions to reduce the amount of corporate food waste they distribute”. Therefore, we welcome the opportunity to engage with and contribute to this consultation, which is much needed and timely, and has the significant potential to set the standard for reversing the unparalleled and disturbing trend of global food banking.

As a collective, at GSA we offer congratulations to Scotland for being the first government to make the ground-breaking and historical decision to develop a national plan focused on ending the need for food banks. As international evidenced based research indicates, food insecurity is primarily an income not a food distribution problem. The challenge, vision and aim of the national plan clearly articulate this.  

In developing the plan, it is important to underline the fact that food is a basic human need essential for life, nutrition, health, and social well-being. Food, as the documentation makes clear, is likewise a fundamental human right long ratified by Westminster and Holyrood, and central to the right to an adequate standard of living. As much as the right to food should be emphasised, so should food as a basic human need.

While there is a moral imperative to feed hungry people, basic human needs should not be left to the compassion of community volunteers nor downloaded to the happenstance and unaccountability of corporate food charity. The literature speaks eloquently to the ‘dark side’ of food banking, of the shame and loss of human dignity experienced by those standing in food bank lines.

It is also vitally important that the terminology of the Scottish Government’s vision be extended to incorporate ending the need for charitable food aid as a response to food insecurity overall, rather than ending the need for food banks. It is therefore critical to extend the remit of the plan’s vision to “end the need for charitable food aid as a primary response to food insecurity”.

At GSA, we therefore hugely welcome the news that this unprecedented consultation to end the need for food banks is underway; in this response, we offer evidence and insights from across our collective which we hope will be useful in further strengthening this national plan.

2.Do you think that the actions underway will help to reduce the need for food banks as a primary response to food insecurity? [Y/N/Don’t Know] 


3.Do you think that the suggestions for what more we plan to do will help to reduce the need for food banks as a primary response to food insecurity? [Y/N/Don’t Know] 


4.Is there anything else that you think should be done with the powers we have at a national or local level to reduce the need for food banks as a primary response to food insecurity? [Open comment

It is imperative that the Scottish Government continues to desist from funding corporate charitable food surplus redistribution charities such as FareShare. Whilst the underlying aim of such funding has been to respond to the problem of increased food insecurity, the need for charitable food aid that this redistribution supports is a symptom of much deeper problems, and underlying issues. We would therefore seek clear reassurance that the Scottish Government is no longer funding, and will not fund, Fareshare in the future.

There is no evidence that feeding surplus or wasted food to hungry people reduces either food insecurity or food waste. Food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, material deprivation, broken social safety nets, income/wealth inequality and failed public policy. Food waste is a symptom of a dysfunctional industrial food system including overproducing and problematic ‘just-in-time’ food supply chains, further compounded by Covid-19. It is illogical and naïve to believe either is the solution to the other, nor effective or evidence based public policy responses to food insecurity or food waste.  If further integrated with policies for food waste reduction, food banks risk upholding a damaging food system rooted in corporate profit and just-in-time food supply chains.

Food waste and food insecurity are separate problems demanding separate solutions. Intertwining the two issues as a “one-two punch” of food waste “solving” food insecurity and mitigating climate change, as promoted by the Global Foodbanking Network, both ignores their underlying structural causes and distracts us from long-lasting, preventative solutions informed by food, health, ecology and social justice.

There is an urgent need to develop a much better understanding about how people can make use of ‘rescued’ food distributed via food banks in their day-to-day lives. We cannot assume that ‘tonnes of food delivered’ to food banks and estimates of the monetary value this represents to the food system, also represents the same type of value, by association, to its intended recipients – i.e. people with multiple economic and health challenges. It is crucial, then, that we completely decouple the notion that food waste distribution to food banks is a solution to two different problems  –  food insecurity and food waste. 

Evidence shows that food banks (and charitable food provision more broadly) are not an appropriate or long term response to poverty, as the draft plan acknowledges. There are many inherent problems with this form of charitable provision; not only is it stigmatising to have to ask for food aid, but the food received is often inadequate to meet people’s needs and, in some cases, inedible. As Victoria, a participant in the Covid Realities research programme, said:

“It’s emotionally difficult to think I’ve been reduced to asking for stale and mouldy bread. I feel guilty for needing to access such assistance, I feel guilty for binning some of the produce given (my logic being that food poisoning could weaken my kiddie’s immune systems and make them more at risk of the virus, better to go without bread than to risk getting ill by it). And I feel shame. At that moment, I felt disgusted at myself. What kind of mother does it make me?”

The Scottish Government should direct such funding to aid to public health and social service agencies with food access and meal programmes enabling them to purchase the food required (including culturally appropriate food) for those who use their services. This could reassure those who find food banks a source of social support and community will be in a position to seek alternative forms of support.

Public health and community social agencies should, to the furthest extent possible and supported by government funding, purchase locally sourced foods thereby strengthening local sustainable food production and the food economy by supporting local agriculture, farm, and food retail incomes. This is more likely an assured path to food security, poverty reduction, better health and climate outcomes through the strengthening of local and regional food and farm economies.

More clarity is needed around the role of the shopping vouchers pilot. Whilst it is important to note that this approach can offer increased choice and less stigma than the distribution of food parcels, there needs to be a wariness and reluctance to them becoming similar to food stamps, as seen in the US, which could prove stigmatising unless rolled out on a universal basis, i.e., healthy food cards for all. Although shopping vouchers may offer more choice, if there are conditional elements attached to these vouchers (i.e. can they only be used on certain items, and in certain supermarkets?), this could lead to stigma and a subsequent impact on dignity. 

Like IFAN, we welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition that the distribution of shopping cards represents a crisis response, that they should be used alongside existing income-boosting responses and “should not replace referrals to the Scottish Welfare Fund or the provision of money advice which will be needed to prevent future hardship”. Whilst GSA would support such a move away from food banking, it is crucial that this pilot scheme is monitored and fully evaluated, including a consultation of recipients of the vouchers to understand how vouchers did / did not influence their food insecurity; if there was a stigma or shame attached to using the vouchers; and how the scheme could eventually be replaced with one that fully adheres to cash first approaches, rather than voucher based provision.

Finally, it is imperative that those most impacted by food insecurity not only be consulted but be resourced to envision, plan and direct the implementation of such public policies. It is encouraging to see the role of people with direct experience of poverty included in the Steering Group and in the draft of the plan – going forward, how can it be ensured that this representation avoids the trappings of symbolism by becoming appropriately resourced? Is childcare offered to ensure participation, for example? How are people rewarded for their time, without impacting upon any social security benefits they may be receiving? If not already in place, constant qualitative monitoring of how people with direct experience of poverty experience being part of the Steering Group and draft of the plan would be useful to ensure the above points are adequately addressed. 

5.Do you have any views on how we intend to measure impact, and what would give you confidence that we are moving in the right direction? [Open comment] 

In terms of monitoring food insecurity, we must ensure that reducing food insecurity is understood both as a policy objective and outcome of the Scottish Government’s poverty reduction legalisation and strategy. People are food insecure first and foremost because they do not have enough income to purchase or produce food. If not already introduced, poverty reduction should be a priority with the necessary monitoring. In other words, food insecurity should not be left as an outlier separately measured by FIES. Additionally, we would recommend reviewing the Food Insecurity module used in the annual Canadian Community Health Survey as a more robust measure of the lack of access to food due to financial constraints.

Food bank data require careful scrutiny. Amounts of food ‘rescued’ and ‘meals’ provided by food banks are not useful indicators of food insecurity.  As is common in the US, food banks celebrate a steady increase in quantities of food rescued and redistributed as a measure of success, and not the declining need for their food provision services.  It is also important to note that food bank statistics underestimate the prevalence of food insecurity.  

Further, in terms of monitoring impact – what are the measures being used? Is it in terms of kilograms of food / numbers of people? Can we link poverty reduction to food insecurity so measures of poverty reduction take precedence instead? This also links into a wider point around right to food monitoring indicators, for instance, including accessibility, affordability, adequacy, and sustainability.

6.Is there anything else that you think should be considered in the development of this plan? [Open comment] 

Poverty reduction

If not already in place, GSA recommends the introduction of a legislated Scottish Poverty Reduction Strategy including the reduction of food insecurity. 

Including direct experience

What efforts are made to ensure people are supported to share their views and experiences? The Covid Realities research programme has highlighted the importance of creating opportunities within charities and third sector organisations for people with lived experience, utilising and drawing on a diversity of expertise. This could be done via exploring non-typical entry routes to open up opportunities, such as non-traditional, paid internships.

It is clear that robust relationships with IFAN and Trussell Trust are in place; therefore, alongside the role of those with direct lived experience, it would be beneficial to also include the views of those working and volunteering in frontline organisations linked to IFAN, the Trussell Trust, the Salvation Army and outside of these networks to understand how a move towards ending the need for food banks can be achieved. 

Social isolation and community support

Food banks do not just offer food – they offer a place for people to come together, have a cup of tea and a slice of toast, and gain companionship, which can reduce social isolation. What measures can be put in place to ensure the community hub role of food banks, as they are phased out for the purpose of food provision, does not lead to an increase in isolation and have an impact upon (often already poor) mental health? How can this transition be managed? The input of food bank managers and volunteers would be crucial. Having food bank managers  and / or  volunteers on the Steering Group could be a useful tool here.

Food connects us to each other, within and across cultures. Healthy food systems based on the Right to Food could include subsidised produce markets and food hubs in all neighborhoods. Will the plan involve funding for community-based organisations, such as  the possibility of funding or enabling mutual aid initiatives? However, food-based, community-level solutions cannot replace the systemic change in public policies needed to address the root causes of food insecurity: this requires a guaranteed adequate income floor for all.