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Foodbank user numbers to hit 55,000

The number of people turning to foodbanks 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 foodbanks 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. He denies that benefit cuts are forcing more people to turn to foodbanks for help.

Mr Gurr said: "It is not scaremongering, 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.

"The rising cost of living means that those in work are harder-pressed than they ever were.

"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.

"People in that position are unable to put food on the table, or have to use a food bank.

"Work doesn't always pay a sustainable amount for a family of two or three or more."

Food poverty is a "hugely significant" issue not only for next year's independence referendum but also for the general election in 2015, he said.

"The issue of welfare in general is a big issue. There are people already asking the question: what would an independent welfare state look like in Scotland? I think it is questions like that that could well define the outcome of the independence referendum.

"For us as an organisation, the result of the independence referendum or the next general election is irrelevant. For us, it is about raising the issue at a Scotland and UK Government level and getting the conversation happening.

"The issue has been raised and the stories about the people affected have been shared.

"The time has now come for creative solutions."

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