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Agenda:

The contrast could scarcely be starker.

We're told the worst is over for the UK economy, yet reliance on food banks is increasing fast. It's a booming industry of which none of us should be proud.

So many people turned up at the West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare outlet in Clydebank one day last week that supplies ran out after 40 minutes. Emergency supplies were called in to make sure no-one went without and stocks at the outlet have been increased to avoid any repeat.

Simply increasing the capacity of food banks isn't the solution, not when demand just keeps rising. The Foodshare's latest figures reveal a surge of 51% in the number of people visiting its three outlets across West Dunbartonshire between December and January alone. Indeed, the Foodshare charity has recorded a steady increase in visitor numbers since July last year with more than 1400 visits so far in 2013/14 and food parcels worth more than £30,000 handed out.

This worsening picture was debated at Holyrood a few days ago, with many MSPs making powerful and well-argued contributions. No-one can suggest they don't recognise the problem or care about it.

We need all of our MSPs to work together. It was therefore disappointing to see the lack of contributions from Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs.

We recognise that not all of the solutions to food poverty rest in Edinburgh but that doesn't mean our MSPs can't act.

They could join Oxfam in calling for the Westminster Work and Pensions Select Committee to conduct an urgent inquiry into the link between welfare changes and the growth of food poverty.

With this in mind, we welcome news the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee will examine this issue in detail. We hope its report will put further pressure on the UK Government.

But, here in Scotland, MSPs could also boost the ability of people in poverty to hold decision-makers to account by the creation of a Poverty Commissioner. Oxfam's experience from our work around the world highlights the importance of involving those with direct experience of poverty in formulating, implementing and enforcing policy commitments.

People living in poverty are experts in their own experience. No-one turns up at a food bank out of choice. It is the lack of choice that drives them to seek free food.

Of those users giving a reason for their visit to Foodshare, more than one-third said it was due to having their welfare payments sanctioned, with others citing financial pressures and rising utility bills.

This confirms our belief that cuts to our social safety nets have gone too far and that more and more people are falling through the holes, leading to hardship and hunger.

And we know the problem doesn't only exist in West Dumbartonshire. The Trussell Trust says more than 23,000 people in Scotland used its food banks in the six months to September 2013.

Along with low pay and under-employment, the trust estimates that nearly one in five of those using its food banks are doing so because of changes to benefits. It says a further one in three people has sought help due to benefit delay.

Our partners at the Clydebank Independent Resource Centre told tell me about one man who sought advice about his benefit payments only to reveal, almost in passing, that he hadn't eaten for three days.

It's not just those who are out of work who are turning to food banks for help.

In-work poverty is now more common than out-of-work poverty and rising food costs and falling wage levels are leaving working families unable to feed themselves properly.

Even small changes can have a big impact. Food banks are a lifeline for many people and those running them deserve huge credit.

But their sheer existence, far less their growth, is also a deeply worrying symptom of a fundamental failure.

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Food and drink

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