FOOD poverty is worse in the UK than in other European countries, according to new data which shows thousands of people cannot afford to eat meat or fish every second day.

 

The studies show that a dramatic rise in food banks and a doubling in food poverty over the last four years.

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Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, the UK fell from 10th to 16th position in a table measuring food poverty in Europe.

The data, by European Union researchers EuroStat, also shows a leap from four per cent to 8.7 per cent in the number of people in the UK unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish, or vegetarian equivalent, every second day.

A report by UK medical journal The Lancet showed a dramatic 163 per cent rise in food bank use and rising food insecurity in the past 12 months. It says that the prospect of people queueing for food aid is "an image reminiscent of the Great Depression in the 1930s."

Adding to the bleak picture, a new Welfare Reform Tracking study commissioned by the Scottish Government shows that many people accessing benefits are living in constant fear of further cuts.

The study, which looks at on-going changes to working age benefits, revealed all respondents, including those in work, found themselves in difficult financial situations and feel an underlying sense of 'precariousness'.

The Scottish Government commissioned Edinburgh Napier University to carry out the Welfare Reform Tracking Study with interviews with participants carried out between September 2013 and March 2015.

Many of those giving evidence were anxious that changes to their circumstances or entitlements would push them into crisis situations.

In addition to this many participants said they received poor and sometimes conflicting communications from benefits agencies and there was a lack of clarity over information that was provided, bringing extra stress and uncertainty.

Disabled participants also felt they had to present themselves in a negative light and focus on their limitations rather than their capabilities.

The challenges of work capability assessments and repeat assessments for people with permanent disabilities were also highlighted.

The article in The Lancet said: "Rising food insecurity is an urgent health problem.

"It is strongly associated not just with malnutrition, but with sustained deterioration of mental health, inability to manage chronic disease, and worse child health.

"While wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated among the richest one per cent of the population and trillions of Euros have been spent on bailing out European banks, surely there is enough to secure adequate access to food for all?"

Christina McKelvie, the SNP MSP, said Prime Minister David Cameron had cited the issue of food poverty ten years ago.

However, she said, the problem has escalated in the five years that he has been Prime Minister.

McKelvie said: "The rise in food bank use and the UK's poor performance compared to other European nations is a stark reminder of the mounting problem of food poverty.

"The fact that the number of people being unable to afford a nutritious meal every second day has more than doubled between 2009-10 and 2013-14 - under David Cameron's Tory Government - is totally unacceptable.

"In 21st century Scotland, it is ridiculous that anyone should suffer from food poverty. The UK Government's welfare cuts have placed some of the most vulnerable people, and increasing numbers of working people and their families too, into poverty."

Hannah Bardell MP, the SNP's Fair Work and Employment spokeswoman at Westminster, added: "These findings which show the UK falling behind Portugal, France, Belgium, Cyprus and other nations in terms of food poverty are a national disgrace."

Alex Neil, the social justice secretary, voiced concern about the impact of the £12 billion of cuts planned by the Tory government in light of the latest research.

He said: "The Welfare Reform Tracking Study is further evidence that people are living in constant anxiety about changes to their entitlements and are already suffering from the effects of around £6bn of cuts taken from Scottish Welfare expenditure over the last five years."