There has been an overall increase in people across Scotland using foodbanks, according to new figures.
But despite this, there are some positive signs according to the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of over 400 foodbanks across the UK, giving emergency food and support to people in crisis.
Trussell Trust foodbanks in Scotland distributed 63,794 three day supplies of emergency food to people in crisis between April and September 2016, compared to 60,458 during the same period in 2015 – an increase of six per cent. 20,332 of these referrals (32 per cent) were for children.
The new figures released today (Tuesday) reveal that problems with benefits remain the most significant reason for foodbank use, accounting for a total of 42 per cent of referrals – 25 per cent due to benefit delays and 17 per cent due to benefit changes.
Low income has increased the proportion of people referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks in Scotland from 21 per cent during April to September 2015 to 24 per cent over the same period in 2016.
This is the highest increase in referrals for this reason in the first six months of any previous financial year. The recent launch of Shetland foodbank means there is now a Trussell Trust presence in all 10 of Scotland’s least deprived local authorities evidencing the extent of economic pressure upon households.
Positive signs have also emerged as nine local authorities experienced a decrease in foodbank use which, in some cases, can be directly attributed to constructive partnerships between statutory and voluntary services.
In Fife, for instance, Scottish Welfare Fund advisors have been placed within Trussell Trust foodbanks to help raise awareness of, and increase access to, crisis grants. Foodbank reports have been positive as the vast majority of applications for crisis grants are successful and the number of foodbank referrals decrease.
There are other less positive reasons for falling numbers in some areas, where decreases may be due to closures or reduced access to front line services.
Some foodbanks have pointed to increased pressure on local statutory and voluntary services as a result of closures or cutbacks. Meanwhile, foodbanks in other local authorities have identified changes to referral practices by statutory services that they are concerned may affect access to emergency food.
The new figures also highlight a disproportionately higher number of people being referred to foodbanks in Scotland than any other part of the United Kingdom.
Whilst the Scottish Welfare Fund can provide short-term support in Scotland, The Trussell Trust is calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to install a direct hotline nationwide that will enable foodbanks to phone the local Job Centre Plus to ensure quick support and resolution for vulnerable clients.
Ewan Gurr, Scotland network manager, said: “The figures, revealed today, offer a mixed prospectus regarding the extent of foodbank use across Scotland.
“On one hand, we are still experiencing an epidemic of hunger in Scotland. Benefit delays and changes together are still the primary reasons underpinning the increased number of referrals to foodbanks. What is more concerning, however, is that hunger is also clearly and consistently being driven by low income. A decrease in the cash in people’s pockets leads to an increase in the use of foodbanks and is now the reason for almost a quarter of all referrals in Scotland.
“However, there are some positive messages embedded in these figures. In some local authorities we have seen decreases in foodbank use. This has occurred where people have secured a crisis grant they previously had not known even existed or where someone has been signposted to a welfare rights advisor within the foodbank. Investment in these areas is the key to projecting people out of poverty, back into sustainable living and will drive down the use of foodbanks.”
Following today’s figures The Trussell Trust is calling for: Any Scottish Government investment in tackling food poverty to support provision alongside prevention, ensuring that services offering both a short-term crisis intervention as well as long term transformation are prioritised.
Additional Scottish Government investment to enable the Scottish Welfare Fund to place advisors in foodbanks that will both enhance the awareness, and increase the accessibility, of crisis grants to those who need them most.
And support for the emerging campaign around period poverty and investment to ensure women on working age benefits are able to access feminine hygiene products and adequate pain relief in a dignified manner.