DESPERATE Scots are turning to food banks and soup kitchens in soaring numbers across the country, new research has found.
More than 20,000 people have received food handouts in the last six months alone and First Minister Alex Salmond today branded the increase “absolutely unacceptable.”
A Scottish Government report today identified 55 food banks and soup kitchens in eight towns and cities, but the overall Scotland-wide figure is likely to be much higher.
Many Scots turning to food banks in recent years are not long-term homeless, but have run into “one-off” money difficulties, as wages slump and benefits fall.
Mr Salmond helped out at a food bank in Edinburgh this morning.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that anyone in a country as prosperous as Scotland should have to rely on foodbanks,” he said.
He insisted that the Scottish Government has provided an additional £9.2 million to a special Welfare Fund, aimed at mitigating the impact of benefit cuts, allowing councils to thousands of extra grants to provide support.
Falling incomes and benefits cuts are main factors driving this increase in demand.
“Welfare and benefit changes are a major cause,” Mr Salmond added.
“The UK is already one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, and the UK Government’s welfare cuts programme unfairly impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“UK Ministers need to account for the impacts of their welfare decisions which are driving so many into food poverty.
“If Scotland were to become independent, we would have full control of the welfare system. Only then would Scotland have the powers needed to guarantee that our most vulnerable families and groups are protected.”
Support for 23,000 Scots
The Trussell Trust is behind the bulk of the food banks in Scotland and has handed out food support to 23,073 Scots in the six months to September 2013 and demand is still soaring.
Ewan Gurr, Scotland Development Officer with the Trust, said: “In Scotland, the number of food banks operating as part of The Trussell Trust has grown from one to 43 in little more than two years and we have seen five times the number of people using Scottish Foodbanks than we did this time last year.
“The number of men, women and children living on a financial knife-edge due to a lethal cocktail of rising living costs, welfare reform and minimal employment opportunities is unacceptable and it is for these reasons that we welcome any effort to focus on the issue of hidden hunger and seek creative solutions.”