A STUDY looking at the impact of COVID on Fifers has found worrying evidence of people "going some days without food".

Councillors were told contributory factors such as low income and job insecurity, debt and mental health have all got worse during the pandemic and affected locals' ability to feed themselves.

Research led by Professor Karen McArdle, from the University of Aberdeen, involved discussions with 154 people in Fife who were in receipt of an emergency grocery box or an emergency hardship payment.

They also spoke to representatives from 35 voluntary groups.

The report to the community and housing services sub-committee said: "Researchers found it particularly concerning that there was 'evidence of people going some days without food' and that it was clear from the sample that 'food insecurity was a fundamental concern and widespread in all areas'.

"Other key findings from the research were associated with mental health and wellbeing, social isolation and loneliness."

It added: "Dignity was also highlighted by the research with evidence of many individuals doing the best they could with difficult life experiences.

"Stigma associated with the use of foodbanks was apparent and cash was the preferred means of support as it holds no stigma, is flexible and can be used according to need."

An update on food and welfare support and proposals for a long-term approach to food insecurity, which aims to tackle poverty and encourage crisis prevention, was presented to the committee last week.

Councillor Linda Erskine said: "The report says there's evidence that people are going days without food and I can tell you that hasn't stopped.

"I hear other councillors talking about about the issue getting bigger and that is indeed what's happening because circumstances have changed.

"People were coming in because of lockdown and difficulties round that but people are now losing their jobs and it's a different set of people we are seeing."

Councillors were told the initial response to the pandemic managed to ensure, thanks to a tremendous effort from council and voluntary groups, that food was available to the vulnerable.

Welfare support was given and crisis grants awarded – more than £71,000 to 161 recipients since December – while the Scottish Government have also offered financial support with different hardship payments.

Ongoing support includes the return this summer of Cafe Inc, which will provide holiday food to young people and their families, while the Scottish Government will extend free school meals to all primary school pupils from August.

A food strategy is also proposed by the council and the report said: "The ‘Healthy Food for All’ pillar will set out how good food is a right, not a privilege, and that everyone should be able to eat healthily every day, no matter who they are, what they do or where they live.

"Key to achieving this is ensuring all those in danger of going hungry or suffering malnutrition can access nutritious food while working to address the underlying causes of food poverty."

Cllr Alice McGarry said: "It's important to recognise the pandemic is not the cause of the issue in relation to food poverty.

"It has simply masked the problems that were already there and are getting much worse.

"The causes are obviously poverty wages and poverty benefits.

"I've got constituents working two to three jobs and they still cannot manage, in the main because they're paying huge rents to private landlords.

"Unfortunately, until benefits and the wages system changes this is going to be ongoing into the future.

"As someone who was a councillor just after the miners' strike, when we saw the poverty and deprivation of that time, I never thought I would see it again but it's here with us and until we break the system we're not going to change it."

Convener Cllr Judy Hamilton said: "This is about austerity in general and I agree about housing. I believe every social outcome begins with good or bad housing."