A growing number of people in Scotland are relying on food banks for basic supplies, with more than 1,000 parcels now being issued every day at branches across the country.
Research has revealed that claims for emergency food from the Trussell Trust and other independent food banks has increased by 22 per cent over an 18 month period.
Between April 2018 and September 2019, at least 596,472 food parcels were handed out, analysis by charity partnership A Menu For Change found.
But campaigners warned that such figures represented only “the tip of the iceberg of those experiencing food insecurity”, with many people often skipping meals or going without food instead of using a food bank.
The partnership, which includes Oxfam Scotland and the Child Poverty Action Group, called for the UK Government to “ensure people have sustainable and secure incomes to stop them being pushed into food insecurity”.
They also called on Holyrood ministers to use existing powers to increase funding to the Scottish Welfare Fund - which it said had faced a real-terms cut since 2013 - to ensure local authorities were able to support people at crisis point.
The Scottish Government said “no one should be left hungry and have to rely on charitable food provision in a country as prosperous as Scotland”.
A spokesman added: “Food bank use has been directly linked to UK Government welfare cuts, benefit sanctions and the flawed Universal Credit.
“To tackle this we invested over £1.4 billion in support for low income households in 2018-19, including over £100 million to mitigate the worst impacts of UK Government welfare cuts.
“This includes our Scottish Welfare Fund, which is a vital lifeline for people facing times of crisis.
“Since its introduction in April 2013, nearly £210 million has been paid out from the SWF to help over 347,000 individual households across Scotland.
“Our £3.5 million Fair Food Fund is supporting communities to respond to food insecurity in a way that promotes dignity and help them move away from charitable food aid as a primary response.”
But Scottish Labour described the figures as a “national scandal”.
MSP David Stewart said: “The SNP’s failure to use powers it already has to challenge the devastating impact of Tory cuts at Westminster mean adults and children across the country are being failed every day.
“The First Minister must take action now to reverse the continuing rise of food bank dependency in Scotland by making sure every person has access to affordable housing, a real living wage and a stable jobs market that means it always pays to work.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “The reasons for people using food banks are complex.
“The UK Government continues to spend around £95 billion a year on working age benefits, with Universal Credit supporting more than 2.7 million people across the UK. It gives people financial help if they’re unemployed, low-paid or unable to work.
“The benefit cap ensures fairness by asking families receiving benefits to face the same financial choices as families supporting themselves solely through work.
“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits.”