About 1.2 million Scots have suffered from food insecurity, a “truly shocking” new report from food bank charity the Trussell Trust has found.
It described its Hunger in Scotland report as the most in-depth study into the causes and impact of hunger to have been carried out.
While its food banks distributed a record 259,744 parcels in Scotland in the year to April 2023, the report said that this was just the tip of the iceberg, with many people “facing serious hardship without such help”.
The Trussell Trust questioned food bank users in Scotland and the general public for its research, which found that 17% of people suffered from food insecurity in the 12 months up to mid-2022.
This equates to about 1.2 million people – more than the populations of the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh combined, the charity said
At some point over the year they will have either run out of food and been unable to afford more, reduced meal sizes, eaten less or gone hungry due to lack of money.
“Food insecurity is prevalent in Scotland and across the UK,” the report said.
“In Scotland around one in six (17%) adults have experienced food insecurity (cutting back or skipping meals due to a lack of income) in the 12 months to mid-2022. This translates to approximately 1.2 million people.”
The report said that “insufficient income is the fundamental driver for almost all people forced to use a food bank”.
According to the research almost half (46%) of disabled people in Scotland had faced hunger, with almost three quarters (73%) of those referred to the Trussell Trust suffering from some kind of disability.
More than a third (35%) of all households that experienced hunger contained children under the age of 16, the report added, while more than a quarter (28%) of unpaid carers had also been affected.
And while single parents make up just 2% of the population, the Trussell Trust found this group made up 17% of those who had gone hungry.
The report said: “Despite the growth in the number of food parcels provided by the Trussell Trust network of food banks and by independent providers, more than two thirds of those experiencing food insecurity have not received food aid.
“Food bank use therefore does not represent the entirety of need across the country, but rather those who have accessed this form of support – many more appear to be facing serious hardship without such help.”
Polly Jones, head of the Trussell Trust in Scotland, said: “It is truly shocking that being forced to turn to a food bank to feed your family is a horrifying reality for so many people in Scotland, and as Hunger in Scotland shows, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Many more people are struggling with hunger. This is not right. Food banks are not the answer when people are going without the essentials in one of the richest economies in the world.”
She added: “Nobody in Scotland should face hunger. That is why research like this is so vital. It provides the evidence we need to be able to change systems, policies and practices, so that no-one in Scotland has to face hunger. ”
She said “positive action” had already been taken by the Scottish Government, which recently published a strategy for ending the need for food banks, and she added this needed to be backed with a “longer-term vision and much bolder action”.
Ms Jones said: “Change needs to come from both Holyrood and Westminster if we are to create a Scotland where people aren’t faced with hunger.
“We know that if all of us work together, we can end the need for food banks.”
Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We recognise the pressure on household budgets after a year of economic mismanagement from the UK Government which has seen soaring inflation and household bills, combined with the UK Government’s hard Brexit which is pushing prices higher still.
“No-one should have to compromise on food or other essentials. We take a human rights approach to this issue, which is why we promote cash-first responses, as outlined in our plan towards ending the need for food banks.
“The Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network agree with this approach.
“Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm is one of three critical missions for this government.
“This year and last we have allocated almost £3bn to support policies to tackle poverty and to protect people as far as possible during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, including offering free school meals to all pupils in primaries one to five and in special schools, giving families an average annual saving of £400 per child.
“During 2022-23 we increased the Scottish Child Payment by 150% and expanded the payment to all eligible children under the age of 16, lifting an estimated 50,000 children out of poverty.
“We are taking action within limited powers and fixed budget but it is only with the powers of an independent nation that we can use all the levers other governments have to tackle poverty and inequalities.”
“I encourage anyone who is struggling financially to get advice through their local authority, a local advice service, or Social Security Scotland as well as checking our cost-of-living website.”