Trussell Trust Scots food bank referrals top 60,000

Boxes at a food bank Image copyright PA

Food bank use in Scotland has increased to record levels, with more than 60,000 referrals over a six-month period, according to a charity.

The Trussell Trust said on average people needed 1.7 referrals, suggesting 35,000 individuals received help.

From April to September its food banks gave out 60,458 three-day emergency supplies, a rise of 17% on last year.

Delays in receiving benefits was the most common reason cited for financial hardship.

About 28% of recipients said this was the reason they were in difficulty, the same proportion as last year.

The percentage of referrals due to benefit changes dropped from 18% to 16%.

The proportion of those referred due to low income increased from 18% to 21%.

Image copyright Trussell Trust

The trust's Scotland network manager Ewan Gurr said he was worried low income would become a bigger problem in the coming months.

He said: "Difficulties related to welfare benefits are still driving the majority of people to our Scottish food banks but now one in five of those referred is on a low income.

"Among that number is a growing body of people in low paid employment who are simply unable to make the pay cheque stretch far enough when crisis hits.

"The increasing instability of the oil, gas and steel industries has already led to significant numbers of people being made redundant and figures revealed in the last week also show that unemployment has risen in Scotland while decreasing in the rest of the UK."

The trust said it also feared a repeat of last year when low income referrals increased sharply in December as fuel costs became an extra drain on household finances.

Benefit changes

Reacting to the figures, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said they were "alarming".

He added: "The figures also show that UK government benefit changes and delays continue to be the most common reason for people seeking emergency food aid.

"While Tory ministers have their head in the sand on the issue, the Scottish government recognises this link and is spending almost £300m over three years to mitigate Tory social security cuts.

"That any government would consider further cuts to the incomes of the poorest families in our society in the face of such clear evidence of rising poverty is appalling - yet George Osborne is set to plough ahead with £12bn more social security cuts."

A UK government spokesman said: "Our reforms have secured record employment, a near record number of job vacancies and a growing economy.

"We maintain a strong social safety net and continue to spend around £80bn on working age benefits.

"We know that the reasons for food bank use are complex and overlapping and it is spurious to claim that it is driven by changes to welfare.

"Work remains the best route out of poverty and thanks to this government's long term economic plan thousands of people are experiencing the dignity of a job, the security of a wage and the peace of mind that comes from supporting your family, many for the first time."

'Wake-up call'

In terms of food donated, the figures revealed Scotland was second only to the north west of England.

When populations were compared, the statistics also suggested that a disproportionately high number of people were being referred to food banks in Scotland compared to other parts of the UK, the trust said.

Scottish Labour's equality spokesman Neil Findlay said: "In a country as wealthy as Scotland it is unacceptable that more than 60,000 people had to rely on food banks over the last six months. As winter approaches, the need for extra support is only going to increase.

"These figures should act as a wake-up call to both of Scotland's governments. After eight years of the SNP in office, and more than five years of the Tories, the gap between the richest and the rest in Scotland remains unacceptably high."

The Trussell Trust describes itself as a charity "motivated by Christian values." Its 50 Scottish food banks are part of a network of 425 across the UK.

Everyone who comes to its food banks is referred by a professional such as a social worker, health visitor or schools liaison officer.

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