A SHARP rise in the number of Scots relying on food banks has been blamed on “deliberate political choices” to cut benefits and welfare, MSPs heard today.
Holyrood heard how 55,000 Scots now rely on emergency food aid during a debate on the rise in food banks called by SNP MSP Stuart McMillan.
Mr McMillan said there was “sheer desperation” in deprived parts of Scotland as he highlighted figures that showed the number of food banks run by the Trussell Trust charity had risen from one to 43 between 2011 and 2013.
Food banks run by the trust provide a minimum of three days nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to people referred to the service by professional care organisations such as social services departments.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the number of Scots needing food parcels to help them survive represented the “equivalent” of crowds at the Ibrox and Celtic Park football stadiums.
Mr Findlay attacked Tory and Lib Dem MSPs as “pathetic” for failing to attend the debate as he claimed the policies of the coalition government were partly to blame for the use of food banks.
The only Tory MSP attending the debate walked out of the Holyrood chamber after he claimed the issue of food banks had been politicised.
Labour minister ‘ashamed’
Mr Findlay, Labour’s shadow health minister. said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” that Scots were having to visit food banks as he claimed the rise in their use was a scandal.
He said: “I cannot imagine what it’s like to be in that position. The growth in the use of food banks has not occurred by chance.
“It has happened due to deliberate political choices - through an ideology that promotes privatisation and individualism over a collective approach.
“I am embarrassed and ashamed that this is happening. The number of 55,000 is what you’d think of when you look at the men and women in the crowd at Ibrox or Celtic Park - it’s the equivalent of that.”
Mr Findlay went onto say that some Scots were being “forced to wipe away their tears and swallow their pride” and were reluctantly visiting food banks in order to feed their children.
Holyrood also heard that some poverty Scots were being forced to return some items in food parcels because they did not own cookers in their homes.
Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said that some people living in temporary accommodation often had “no access to kitchen facilities whatsoever” including kettles.
Tory leaves over ‘respect’
Meanwhile, Mr McMillan said that a large chunk of the UK’s food banks were in Scotland as he claimed that “an independent Scotland can finally end the scandal of food poverty”.
He said: “In 2011, there was one Trussell Trust food bank operating in Scotland; by October 2013, this had increased to 43. There are over 400 in operation across the UK.
“More recent figures for Scotland estimate somewhere in the region of over 55,000 Scots relying on emergency food aid.
“No one turns up at Food banks because there is an opportunity for free food. They are driven there in sheer desperation.”
Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said he had attended the opening of the debate, but had walked out because he claimed the behaviour of the SNP was “disrespectful” to food bank volunteers.
He said: “I was present for the opening speech, but I thought it was disrespectful to those involved in food banks and politically motivated and served no constrictive purpose.
“I’m a strong supporter of food banks and those who volunteer to help others, but I didn’t think the SNP showed the levels of respect to those volunteers.”
A spokeswoman for the Lib Dems said the party’s five MSPs all had “long held” commitments at the time of today’s food banks debate at Holyrood.
The spokeswoman said the party’s record on opposing food poverty was “very clear” and claimed that the Lib Dems had a strong commitment to helping poorer Scots.