Living is more important than just surviving: children must have enough food to thrive

18 October 2016

A child's hands around a sticky note that reads 'If you can make veggies and the good things you're meant to eat lower, then people can know that they can buy them.'

The Commissioner today called on the Scottish Government to “top up” child benefit payments to the poorest families in Scotland— so that all children have enough food to thrive.

His call comes as the Scottish Government consults on the new social security powers devolved under the Scotland Act 2016. It echoes a call made by the Government's Independent Working Group on Child Poverty in their report published earlier this year.

Publishing his own report – Living is more important than just surviving – about the views of children on food insecurity, the Commissioner highlighted the lack of accurate data about the numbers of children experiencing food insecurity.

The Commissioner said:

“We know that almost one in five children in Scotland are living in relative poverty and charities report that a third of people depending on food banks are children.
“This can only harm children’s physical and mental well-being. Unless their basic need to be well nourished is met, we cannot expect children to concentrate at school or on other activities.”

Living is more important than just surviving

The Commissioner’s research was prompted by:

  • the rapid increase of food insecurity in Scotland, and
  • the absence of children’s input in discussions on the causes and solutions to poverty.

It found that children as young as five had well-developed ideas around solutions to food insecurity. These included:

  • making healthy food more affordable,
  • redistributing money, and
  • supporting charitable solutions.

A growing concern

The research highlights that children in Scotland have a nuanced understanding of food insecurity.

This may not be surprising, as the issue is extremely relevant both in Scotland and around the world.

Children are familiar with the subject in various contexts, from food bank drives in schools to humanitarian appeals for children abroad. The Trussell Trust, one of many food bank providers, has reported that in 2015/16 it handed out 133,726 three-day food parcels in Scotland, more than 20 times the number it handed out in 2011/12.

Acknowledging children’s experiences of food insecurity, the Commissioner said:

“The greatest insight of this research is of young children’s desire and ability to solve the challenges they see in the world around them, which raises a number of questions about the inclusion of children in public policy and decision-making more generally.”

Pete Ritchie, Executive Director of Nourish Scotland, said:

“A number of the solutions children suggested were rooted in children’s rights: they all agreed that children have a right to food.
“However, we don’t have a clear idea of the scale of the challenge. There is currently no population wide monitoring of food insecurity in Scotland or the rest of the UK, though the exponential rise of food banks and other emergency food aid providers has highlighted a very real problem.
“The Scottish Government could include a child-specific measure of food insecurity in the Child Poverty Bill.”

Shelagh Young, Director of Scotland at Home-Start UK, said:

“The children in this report confirmed that a reliable supply of healthy food for every family is an essential aspect of making Scotland the best place to grow up. As one of them put it, ‘When you are hungry all you can think about is food’.
“Home-Start volunteers work every day with families who demonstrate huge resourcefulness in the face of serious levels of need, but we know that our help is too easily undermined by everyday material problems.”

About the research

The small-scale research study was conducted with 32 children in four local authority areas in Scotland. It was carried out for the Commissioner by Nourish Scotland, with support and guidance from Home Start in Scotland and children’s consultant Doctor Chelsea Marshall.

The research was prompted by the rapid increase of food insecurity in Scotland and the absence of children’s voices in discussions on the causes and solutions to poverty. We know that more than one in five children in Scotland are living in relative poverty and that a third of people depending on food banks are children. There is also increasing evidence that food insecurity can have a significant negative impact on children’s:

  • physical and psychological wellbeing,
  • educational attainment, and
  • long-term quality of life.

What is not well researched is what children in Scotland think about food insecurity. Children experience multiple barriers to participation in decision-making, but unless we listen to their experiences and concerns – and meaningfully involve them in developing solutions – we cannot address food insecurity in a way that respects, protects and fulfills children’s rights.

Find out more