FIVE times more Scots are turning to food banks for emergency aid than last year, a charity has revealed.
Between April and September, 23,073 people were referred to the Trussell Trust for three days’ worth of food – comprising 16,465 adults and 6,608 children.
That compares with 4,021 people in the same months of 2012 – 2,786 adults and 1,235 children.
The charity, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, has seen referrals treble across the UK up to 350,000 this year.
The trust, which revealed the figures to coincide with World Food Day today, has written to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an urgent public inquiry into the causes of UK food poverty.
The charity’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 trust has 400 food banks throughout the UK, including 42 in Scotland, with another 17 due to open north of the Border. Two to three new food banks are opening across Britain every week.
Chris Mould, executive chairman of the charity, said: “The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable. It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people.
“The time has come for an official and in-depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in the usage of food banks.”
People needing help are directed to a range of agencies, including Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), where they are issued with a voucher to take to the food bank. They are then given three days’ supplies of non-perishable food.
Ewan Gurr, the trust’s Scotland development officer, said he had noticed a wide range of people using food banks, including business owners.
“I’ve been astounded by the number of self-employed people coming forward. They take the first hit because they want to make sure their employees get paid,” he said.
“As time goes on and things get worse, my fear is that we’ll see more people falling into malnutrition and perhaps taking their own lives.
“Many people are at their wits’ end and feeling like they are being pushed off the precipice.”
Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “The reason for the rise in food bank cases is that household incomes are not keeping up with the cost of living.
“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.”
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.”