Katrine Bussey: Food for thought as figures show 8% of Scots worry that the food cupboard may become bare

Figures this week revealed 8 per cent of Scots are worried about running out of food, and one in 10 people living in the poorest areas have gone hungry in the last year because of lack of money.

The findings emerged from the 2017 Scottish Health Survey, which for the first time included questions on food insecurity. Almost 3,700 adults and just over 1,600 children across Scotland took part in the 2017 survey – with the findings showing increased consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of adults ate the recommended five portions a day, the highest total since 2003 – although the figures also showed that 10 per cent had not consumed any fruit or vegetables on the day prior to the survey being carried out.

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On average adults in Scotland consumed 3.3 portions of fruit or vegetables, against the highest since 2003, with children 2.9 portions on average – the best since 2008.

While only 1 per cent of people living in the most affluent communities reported having nothing left to eat in the previous 12 months, this increased to 10 per cent in the most deprived areas.

The survey found that overall 8 per cent of adults had experienced food insecurity in 2017, with this defined as being a worry they would run out of food because of financial problems. This affected one in five (20 per cent) adults aged 16 to 64 who were living alone, while 7 per cent of Scots reported eating less than they should because of money worries, and one in 25 (4 per cent) running out of food at some point in the last year.

The problem was worst among younger Scots, with 6 per cent of those aged 16 to 44 running out of food, compared to less than 0.5 per cent of those who were 65 or older.

Meanwhile 18 per cent of single adults living alone and single parents said they had eaten less than they should at some point over the past year because of their finances.

Campaigners said the results “paint a grim picture of hunger across the country”, adding the problem was due to “widespread poverty”.

The report said there was a “significant association between area deprivation and food insecurity in 2017” noting that while 18 per cent of those in the most deprived areas had been worried about running out of food at some point in the last 12 months, compared to 3 per cent of people in the least deprived areas.

Charities Oxfam Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Nourish Scotland and The Poverty Alliance joined forces to set up A Menu for Change – a project aimed at tackling food insecurity and poverty.

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Policy officer Mary Anne MacLeod said: “These statistics paint a grim picture of hunger across the country. Given Scotland isn’t facing a food shortage, this is clearly a problem of widespread poverty. The figures show 16 to 44 year olds are most likely to be going hungry.

“We know low wages, zero-hour contracts, frozen benefit levels and the introduction of Universal Credit are pushing more and more people to the brink. When so many people are struggling to make ends meet you know something has gone badly wrong with the system.

“That’s why our political leaders must urgently fix the system, in our rich country no-one should be constantly worrying about how they’re going to feed their kids. We can do better than that.

“Everyone should be able to access the money they need to put food on the table.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “No-one should experience food insecurity in a country as prosperous as Scotland.

“We are directly challenging the causes of food insecurity by promoting the living wage and embedding a rights-based approach in our new social security system.

“We continue to challenge the UK government’s punitive welfare policies and continued austerity, which takes money out of the pockets, and food out of the mouths, of the most vulnerable in our society.

“We expect to spend £125 million this year alone in mitigating UK government welfare measures. We have increased our Fair Food Fund to £1.5 million this year, rising to £3.5 million next year, to reduce and over time remove the need for food banks.”

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Scottish Green health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said: “It’s appalling that in wealthy 21st century Scotland we have so many people either worrying about running out of food due to lack of money or actually going hungry because they’re strapped for cash.

“The impact of poor nutrition on people’s physical and mental health is well understood, and it’s particularly detrimental to children’s development.”

The Lothian MSP added: “I hope in light of the new findings on food insecurity SNP ministers think again about a £5-a-week top-up of Child Benefit and finish the job on mitigating the benefit cap, to ensure families no longer go hungry.”

Scottish Labour MSP Elaine Smith also hit out at the figures, branding them a “damning indictment of SNP and Tory austerity”.

She stated: “It is simply unacceptable for anyone in the 21st century to be concerned about running out of food and it is shocking that almost a fifth of those living in the worst off areas are worried about running out of food.

“We cannot accept that as the reality and that is why we need real change in Scotland and across the UK.”

A UK government spokeswoman said: “Since 2010 over 3.3 million more people are in work across the UK, and the proportion of people in Scotland living in absolute poverty is at a record low, including for children.

“The best way to help people improve their lives is to support them into work, and Universal Credit gives people the flexibility to increase their working hours while keeping more of their money.

“The Scottish Government now has significant welfare powers, including to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create new benefits altogether.”

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