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Resourcefulness, Desperation, Shame, Gratitude and Powerlessness: Common Themes Emerging from A Study of Food Bank Use in Northeast Scotland

1 Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, Scotland;
2 Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Special Issues: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention among Most Vulnerable Populations

There is growing policy maker and public concern about current trends in food bank use in Scotland. Yet little is known about the experiences of those seeking help from food banks in this country. This research aimed to address this issue by studying the use and operation of a food bank situated in a rich northeast city during January and June 2014. The study aimed to establish who was seeking help from the food bank, their reasons for doing so, and what those who did thought of, and dealt with the food they received from it. Consequently, an audit of the food bank's client database, four months of participant observation based in the food bank, and seven face-to-face interviews with current and former food bank clients were conducted. The audit revealed that clients came from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, with men more likely to access it compared to women. Debt and social security benefit delays were cited as the main reasons for doing so. Qualitative data confirmed that sudden and unanticipated loss of income was a key driver of use. Resourcefulness in making donated food last as long as possible, keeping fuel costs low, and concern to minimise food waste were commonly described by participants. Desperation, gratitude, shame and powerlessness were also prevalent themes. Furthermore, clients were reluctant to ask for food they normally ate, as they were acutely aware that the food bank had little control over what it was able offer. Insights from this study suggest that recent UK policy proposals to address food poverty may have limited impact, without concomitant effort to address material disadvantage. Research is urgently required to determine the precise nature and extent of household level food insecurity in Scotland, and to consider monitoring for adverse physical and mental health outcomes for those affected by it.
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