Former prime minister Gordon Brown has said poverty is the most critical and divisive issue facing Scotland as he called on business and governments to take urgent action to address the problem.

“I’m seeing poverty in my own home area that I thought I would never see again in my lifetime,” said Mr Bown, who grew up in Kirkcaldy in Fife, which was hit hard by the decline of industries such as mining and textiles.

“It’s poverty that’s seeing schoolchildren going to school ill-fed and hungry … it’s poverty that’s seeing nurses and even teachers and others having to queue up at food banks after a back-breaking day at work simply to get stuff to make ends meet,” said Mr Brown.

Speaking at a conference in Edinburgh, Mr Brown underlined the scale of the problem as he expressed fears that things could get worse in coming months as high energy costs and inflation take a toll on households.

“We’re now seeing what I don’t think we saw physically at least in the 50s and 60s, we’re seeing mental illness on the rise, we’re seeing family break up in a way we haven’t seen before, we’re seeing children being put into care … I see it getting worse this year and worst next year unless some action is taken,” cautioned Mr Brown.

He noted: “The amount of money being given to charities is halving.”

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The veteran Labour politician told the Advertising Association conference that businesses could play a vital role in helping to tackle poverty by supporting initiatives such as the Multibank scheme he has helped to establish in Fife.

“We have a new idea that I would like to see you publicise because it started in Scotland. That is the idea of the Multibank … which is the food bank, the clothing bank, the furniture bank. It’s a baby bank all rolled into one so we can make provision for families.”

The Fife multibank has distributed goods worth around £20 million. It has won support from a range of suppliers including Amazon.

Businesses can donate surplus goods to multibanks, which also provide environmental benefits by helping avoid waste.

“This is a pollution solution as well,” said Mr Brown, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2010.

“If you look at the green economy one of the most important areas is the amount of waste, landfill, the amount of destruction of goods that are surplus to requirements in one place but could be used elsewhere,” he observed.

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Mr Brown also said the benefits system is making the problem of poverty worse. He focused his criticism on the Universal Credit system introduced by the Conservative Government

“Half the people on Universal Credit are not actually getting the benefits they are entitled to because they are subject to deduction,” complained Mr Brown.

Speaking days after it emerged that offshore windfarm developers had boycotted the latest official support round, Mr Brown was critical of the record of governments in terms of support for the renewables industry in Scotland.

He appeared to lament the fact that the Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) business in Fife went into administration in 2020 although it had been in line to work on valuable wind turbine contracts.

“Both the Scottish and the UK governments pulled the plug from under that company and so we lose the ability to develop a wind turbine industry, we lose hundreds of jobs in Fife,” said Mr Brown.

The Scottish Government has said that EU restrictions on state aid limited its ability to support BiFab.

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The Westminster Government was criticised this week for not allegedly offering incentives that would be sufficient to encourage renewables firms to develop windfarms in UK waters following the recent surge in inflation.

Mr Brown added: “We have to look seriously at what is happening at the moment which is most of the wind contracts are going abroad despite the fact we have huge advantages, not just in wind but in wave and in hydrogen as well as other areas of renewables.”

Mr Brown told the audience at the Advertising Association’s LEAD conference that he could be described as a lapsed or recovering politician.

He became Labour MP for Dunfermline East from 1983 and represented Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath from 2005 to 2015. The Edinburgh university graduate became the longest serving chancellor of modern times after holding that post from 1997 to 2007.