SNP Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley-Anne Somerville, outlined the plan to establish a new £1.8 million “cash-first programme” to reduce the need for emergency food parcels through access to cash.
She wrote in the statement: “We have taken forward bold measures to boost incomes and protect households against food insecurity. We consider social security to be an investment in people and a means of alleviating poverty and that is why we uprated all of the benefits we deliver by 10.1% in April this year, ensuring our support keeps step with rising costs.
“Our unique Scottish Child Payment, one of five family Scottish government benefits, offers financial support to families which is unparalleled across the UK and food banks suggest that this may have already helped to slow the pace of demand for their services in Scotland.
“But our support goes much wider than this, reaching households in need through mitigating UK government policies with Discretionary Housing Payments, and reducing the burden of council tax through our universal Council Tax Reduction Scheme.”
In practice, this cash-first plan looks like a new scheme which sees vulnerable people being given shopping cards as an alternative to food bank referrals. This means they are free to choose what items they need.
The government said it will consider cash grants instead of cards where appropriate.
The state will also run a competition to find eight area-based partnerships to to implement and strengthen their new approach.
The partnership will then be granted up to £200,000 over the next two years to recruit a coordinator and strategise on improvement projects.
Funding is also said to be made available to the British Red Cross to run the Scottish Crisis Fund to help those who are at risk of homelessness, such as domestic abuse survivors, and those without recourse to public funds.
As part of the programme, more advice will also be available to Scots in financial distress.
While the measures were welcomed by organisations such as the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), questions were raised about whether new money would be put into the Scottish Welfare Fund.
The IFAN says increased investment, promotion of and administration of the welfare pot is urgently required.
Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network said: “The Scottish Government has raised the bar by committing to actions to reduce the need for food banks. It’s possible not only to design a cash first anti-poverty strategy but also to deliver it building a future where no one needs to turn to a food bank to get by. Charitable food aid teams across Scotland and the rest of the UK are determined to see the need for their services eliminated.”
The news comes after think tank Autonomy shared that it would be starting a trial giving people a non means-tested monthly sum of £1,600 as a universal basic income.
People in certain areas of London will be given the stipend, regardless of how much they earn, to research how the money affects their lives.
Currently, the study is in its early stages to find respondents.
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