The Scottish Government provides assistance to food banks in a number of ways, including through over £13 million of funding this year and wider advice and support. We have gone beyond our original £70 million food fund commitment and have now committed over £130 million to tackling food insecurity that has been caused by the pandemic, as well as having committed to the provision of free school meals to Easter.
Our focus is on strengthening household budgets to reduce the need for food aid, and we are doing that by promoting a cash-first response to food insecurity. Our £45 million Scottish welfare fund and the further flexible funding that we have provided to local authorities are helping to get both cash and food to those who need it. We have continued to press the United Kingdom Government to support people further through the social security system, not least by making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent and by extending it to legacy benefits.
I am sure that the cabinet secretary will want to join me in praising the work of the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank, the Roseneath peninsula food bank, West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, and food for thought at St Augustine’s church, for all their efforts to help low-income people put food on the table. Their work during the pandemic has never been so important.
Does the cabinet secretary agree with the Trussell Trust that, if we want to end the need for food banks, we need to concentrate on getting money into people’s pockets? If so, I join her in arguing for the retention of the £20 increase in universal credit, but will she consider how to better use the Scottish welfare fund to do that as well?
I thank Jackie Baillie for mentioning all those organisations in her constituency. I started to jot them down, but there were so many that I did not get the chance. I certainly extend my thanks to all the groups that she mentioned—as I did to the groups that Emma Harper mentioned—for doing so much to ensure the resilience of the country.
I echo the calls and pleas of the Trussell Trust. I met its representatives just last week to hear their thoughts and views on how to tackle food insecurity and, in effect, put themselves out of a role by
stopping food aid, because it is not the dignified response that we want for people and communities. That is why the winter package that was announced by the First Minister is critical. It is about getting cash to families, because they know how best to spend it and to meet their needs. How they do that should not be dictated to them by the Scottish Government. That is also why we have taken a cash-first approach to food insecurity, using the infrastructure that we have through the Scottish welfare fund.
I agree with the Trussell Trust on that approach, and we discussed areas where we might be able to make improvements. Again, in the work that we will take forward with the trust, we will try to develop good learning, good practice and good ways in which we can make as much use of the Scottish welfare fund as possible, particularly as we go into the darker, colder and more expensive winter months. We also have Brexit challenges ahead, so there is a lot of need for us to ensure that the money that we put in to support families gets to them in the most dignified way possible.