FOODBANKS have become an indispensable part of Scotland’s welfare system, providing support for the bereaved, ‘family’ for the lonely and isolated and even offering cookery advice, according to a new report.

The Glasgow University research says foodbanks are now being “taken for granted” by councils, doctors, housing workers, benefits staff and charities – but are providing much more than emergency food aid.

They are also seen by those who use them as far more compassionate than government agencies as the report states: “People got something of their humanity back through the treatment they received at foodbanks”.

The study - part of the GoWell Glasgow Community Health and Wellbeing programme - was requested by the Scottish Government, which has put £1.25 million into a Fair Food Transformation Fund aimed at moving Scotland away from reliance on emergency food aid.

READ MORE: ‘We were advised the only thing to do was use the food bank’

But the report says foodbanks are now providing much more than food parcels and there is a danger this will be lost.

Researchers spoke to people who had used a foodbank at least once and many referenced the stigma attached to having to ask for free food, and told researchers it made them feel: “Scared, small, nervous, grim and ashamed”.

However, most said that this wore off or that desperation overcame their embarrassment.

The report says foodbank users are more likely to have chronic health or mental health problems and to be socially isolated or withdrawn. For significant numbers, researchers suggest, a trip to a foodbank can make up their main or only social contact. It adds that the care and respect shown by foodbank volunteers is often contrasted with treatment people received from staff working in agencies dealing with benefits and employment issues, where they felt they were “negatively judged, not empathised with or understood, and not supported.”

It says foodbank users were almost unanimously positive about volunteers. “For many it was a surprise that someone actually cared about their situation and was not judging them for it.”

HERALD VIEW: Food banks must signal a new fight against poverty

The report also suggests many more Scots may need food aid than foodbank usage suggests. The Trussell Trust says it gave out 145,000 food parcels in Scotland last year, but the researchers found a “plethora” of other foodbanks run by churches, community groups and charities are not counted in these figures. Meanwhile, researchers have found that for every household which has had to use foodbanks - one in 25 people in the poorest parts of the country - another person regularly has problems affording food but does not use them.

“Food insecurity is much more widespread in deprived communities than foodbank use itself would indicate,” the report says.

Professor Ade Kearns, one of the authors, said: “There is a conundrum in that participants wanted foodbanks to be anonymous so neighbours don’t know they are using one. But others complained they didn’t know if there was a local foodbank, or how to find it. There is quite a large group of people in desperate need who are not making the choice to use foodbanks. They are still a last recourse for people.”

Other reasons people choose not to use foodbanks include a reluctance to rely on charity or a sense that others were worse off, he said.

Louise Lawson, who co-authored the report, said getting referred to a foodbank for help could also be surprisingly difficult. “Some ask for a referral from a GP, but it can take ages to get an appointment. Another woman had a seven hour wait at a financial advice agency before she could get referred.”

READ MORE: ‘We were advised the only thing to do was use the food bank’

The additional benefits provided by foodbanks are an important finding Professor Kearns added. “In general we don’t want to see people needing emergency food assistance. But foodbanks provide other valuable things. Often people returned for the company as much as for the food.

“If you want, as the Scottish Government does, to try and provide other types of food aid, this suggests we should not rush to remove foodbanks without being sure the other things the do for people in need can be provided in another way.”

“There’s a big social need here that is not a food need. The Scottish Government asked us to look at the implications for food policy, but what we found has a bearing on its social isolation strategy as well.”