THE NEED for food banks is a “stain on our national conscience” with reliance dramatically increasing in Scotland, a charity report has found.
Changes to the welfare system, low wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices have all contributed to the increase in the numbers of meals handed out, the study claimed.
Last year, more than 20 million meals were given to people across the UK who could not afford to feed themselves, a 54per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to the ‘Below the Breadline’ report published by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.
Figures from the Trussell Trust alone showed that 913,138 people in the UK were given three days emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 - the equivalent of over eight million meals. In Scotland the figure is 71,428, up from just over 14,000 the previous year.
Oxfam want to see more done to help vulnerable people and the charity pointed to figures which it said show that the richest 10per cent in Scotland have 900 times more wealth than the poorest 10per cent.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Scotland, as across the UK, is a stain on our national conscience.
“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, too many people need more help to deal with the consequences of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices.
“The UK Government needs to do more to help ensure the poorest and most vulnerable people don’t bear the brunt of turning the economy around.
“No-one turns up at a food bank out of choice: it is the lack of options which forces people to use them as a measure of last resort.”
The report calls on the UK Government to investigate the issue and produce an action plan to tackle the increasing reliance on food banks.
‘’Protecting its citizens from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of government,’’ the Below the Breadline report said.
‘’Most of us have grown up with the assumption that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in and prevent us from falling into destitution and hunger.
‘’The principle of this crucial safety net now appears to be under threat.’’
Food bank users featured in the report spoke of the struggle to feed themselves and of deteriorating health. One woman described her situation as, “like living in the 1930s and through rationing”, while another said “I wouldn’t eat for a couple of days, just drink water”.
Ewan Gurr from the Trussell Trust said: “Among the 71,000 people Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland provided emergency food to in 2013/14, 22,387 were children.
“Creative solutions and systemic change are necessary if we are to tackle the threat of food poverty and the explosion in demand for emergency food and we endorse the recommendations offered in the ‘Below the Breadline’ report. We celebrate the way our food banks respond to need but we do not celebrate the need that demands their existence.”