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'55,000 to need food banks by April'

The number of people turning to food banks for emergency aid is expected to hit at least 55,000 by the end of the financial year.

The total, up from 14,527 in the previous 12-month period, is a conservative estimate and may well be exceeded, The Trussell Trust charity said.

Scotland now has 43 food banks, which helped around 39,000 people with emergency supplies between April 1 and December 23.

Ewan Gurr, the charity's Scotland development officer, said: "I don't think we're going to see any improvement in the short term. I would expect the numbers to reach at least 55,000 by the end of March 2014, and that is a conservative estimate.

"If things continue as they are, with food banks getting busier and new food banks opening, it will top that."

Any economic growth is being undermined by rising living costs, welfare cuts and a lack of jobs, the charity says. But these assertions are disputed by UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who denies that benefit cuts are forcing more people to turn to food banks for help.

Mr Gurr said: "It is not scare mongering, it is reality and the coalition Government can ignore that as much as they want. They can focus on the 0.8% growth in the economy and decreasing unemployment throughout the country. That's good. That is something we celebrate, but there is more work to be done.

"We are seeing an increasing number of people who are in work, who had sustainable incomes five years ago but, because of the rising cost of living, are not able to make that income stretch as far as it used to."

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