Food bank use soars in Scotland

The use of food banks is increasing. Picture: Getty

The use of food banks is increasing. Picture: Getty

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FIVE times more Scots are turning to food banks to feed their families than 12 months ago.

The sharp rise has been blamed by charities on benefit cuts and payment delays.

Today, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said around three-quarters of people who use food banks are forced to do so because of changes to the welfare system.

Nearly 1000 people have been referred to food banks by advisers at local Citizens Advice bureaux since April, the body said.

The figure was revealed on World Food Day as the Trussell Trust said it provided a three-day food package to more than 350,000 people across the UK between April and September.

CAS chief executive Margaret Lynch said the figures were “truly shameful” and paint “a bleak picture of a Dickensian society”.

She said the figures were only the “tip of the iceberg”.

Advisers see many clients on the verge of needing a food bank while others go without food or take out loans just to pay for it, she said.

An analysis of 500 recent cases found that 73 per cent of people who needed to use a food bank did so because of problems with their benefits.

Almost a third did so because their benefit was delayed (30 per cent), around one in five lost their benefit through sanctions (22 per cent), one in seven were hit by an employment and support allowance reassessment (14 per cent) and seven per cent cited the so-called bedroom tax.

“The reason for the rise in food bank cases is that household incomes are not keeping up with the cost of living,” Ms Lynch pointed out.

“Half of those who use food banks are actually working but their wages are too low to sustain them. The other half are people on benefits, whose low incomes have been squeezed even further by harsh policies like the bedroom tax. And with more welfare cuts on the way, this situation looks set to get even worse.

“Food bank charities like the Trussell Trust are doing a great job helping people in need. But food parcels in themselves don’t address the underlying causes of poverty. Governments need to understand the extent of this crisis, and take action to address it.

“Food parcels should not be seen as a policy response to that issue; rather, policy should be focused at ensuring that families do not experience these problems at all and are able to put food on the table. That doesn’t seem like much to ask of a civilised society in 2013.”

The Trussell Trust has written to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for a public inquiry into the causes of UK food poverty and the surge in food bank use.

The Trust’s Scottish arm said many working people were among those being referred to the food banks, and there had also been an increase among the self-employed.

Thirty-five per cent of applicants said benefit delays had left them needing support, with a fifth citing changes to how much benefit they receive.

The UK Government rejected claims that benefit changes were responsible for the rise.

A spokesman said: “The government has taken action to help families with the cost of living, including increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000, which will save a typical taxpayer over £700, freezing council tax for five years and freezing fuel duty.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com