FOOD BANKS in one part of Scotland rose by more than 50% last month, it has emerged.
There were 358 visits to Foodshare’s three outlets in West Dunbartonshire in January - up from 237 in December 2013 - an increase of 51%.
Of those users giving a reason for their visit, more than a third (36%) said it was due to having their welfare payments sanctioned and others cited financial pressures and rising utility bills.
Meanwhile, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau referred more than 400 people to a foodbank last month - the highest monthly figure yet recorded.
It said nearly three quarters of people they refer to foodbanks are in that position due to problems related to the benefit system.
Oxfam Scotland said it was deeply concerned at the figures released by West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, one of its Scottish partners.
Jamie Livingstone, acting head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “Food banks are both a lifeline and a symptom of fundamental failure - they can never be seen as a long-term solution. Too many Scots don’t have enough to eat - that simply cannot continue.”
Oxfam Scotland said 41% of people seeking emergency support in January had families.
It said part of the rise could be explained by increased awareness of the service but that Foodshare has recorded a steady increase in visit numbers since July last year, with more than 1,400 visits so far in 2013/14 and food parcels worth more than £30,000 distributed.
The data was released ahead of a debate at the Scottish Parliament today on the increasing use of foodbanks across Scotland.
Danny McCafferty, chair of West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare (WDCF), said: “Charitable organisations engaged in the war against poverty have been torn between standing aside and letting people literally starve, or intervening through the establishment of food banks.
“What many had hoped would be a temporary measure is in fact being actively encouraged by the Westminster Government to become the new norm for delivering welfare to the destitute.
“We are on the road to re-establishing the Dickensian ethos of the “deserving and undeserving poor”. We cannot and must not allow the present situation to become acceptable in a rich civilised society.”
At a UK level, Oxfam is calling on the Work and Pensions Select Committee to conduct an urgent inquiry into the relationship between changes to welfare and the growth of food poverty.
It also suggests the creation of a Poverty Commissioner in Scotland.
CAS has told MSPs that 30% of its food bank referrals are because the person’s benefit has been delayed.
A further 22% have been “sanctioned” by the jobcentre; 14% have had their benefit re-assessed; and 7% have been hit by the so-called “bedroom tax”.
CAS policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: “It used to be quite rare for CAB advisers to see people who were so poor that they literally couldn’t afford to eat that day. Sadly, over the last few years it has become increasingly common. The reasons behind this are the recession and the drastic changes that have been made to the benefits system.”
He said food parcels do not address the underlying problem of poverty, and should not be seen as a long-term solution to it.
He added: “This is a crisis that needs to be addressed urgently.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK Government is increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000, which will save a typical taxpayer over £700 and will benefit 2.2 million people in Scotland while lifting 224,000 out of tax altogether.
“The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks.
“In fact, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with the Universal Credit making three million households better off, with 300,000 in Scotland alone - the majority of these from the bottom two fifths of the income scale.”