Rising cost of living could spark rocketing demand for food banks in Scotland in ‘nightmare scenario’, charity warns

Food bank use could soar as rocketing utility prices force Scottish households into poverty, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned.

The charity warned householders could be facing a “nightmare scenario” of rising bills and flat or falling incomes in the spring, pushing them towards food banks.

The warning comes as part of the organisations’ submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation into ending food bank usage in Scotland.

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The document lists a umber of measures which need to be taken by government before food banks can be reduced. These include reducing the cost of living, increasing social security support and benefit take-up, encouraging fair work, improving debt solutions and debt recovery and making the Scottish Welfare Fund more accessible.

Food bank use has increased during the pandemic.

Analysis of the advice Citizens Advice Bureaux gave during the pandemic found 30 per cent of clients getting advice around food banks also needed advice around utilities – the majority of which is energy advice. More than 2,000 people needed advice in relation to both food banks and utilities.

Households are facing a range of increased costs over the next few months. The new level of the energy price cap, which is set to increase in April, will be announced in February, with a 50 per cent increase in bills seen as likely.

Meanwhile, inflation has been rising and some households will be hit by a rollback last November of the uplift in Universal Credit brought in during the pandemic, cutting incomes by £20 a week.

Previous analysis published by CAS revealed almost half a million people in Scotland were cutting back on food shopping because of unaffordable energy bills.

The charity has also seen increasing demand for energy advice. Data from the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland for September last year already shows a rise in demand for energy debt advice, with a 53 per cent increase since February 2020.

Pages related to energy efficiency have meanwhile been the most frequently viewed of the energy-related pages on the Advice for Scotland website since July 2020.

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CAS chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “We are facing a nightmare scenario in the spring as the rising cost of living and increases in energy bills collide with flat or falling incomes.

“Around half a million people are already cutting back on food shopping to deal with unaffordable bills, and looking at the demand for advice the Citizens Advice network saw during the pandemic, we see a link between the need to use a food bank and the need for advice around utilities. People are holding on by their fingertips. They can’t afford a big rise in bills with no support. Some sort of emergency action from the government is essential."

Mr Mitchell added: “While we are seeing an unprecedented crisis in the energy market driving these increases, the need for food banks predates this and is simply unacceptable. No-one should have to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.”

The Scottish Government’s consultation into a national plan to end the need for food banks was launched in October.

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