THE number of emergency food parcels handed out at food banks to children in Scotland has rocketed by nearly 60% since the pandemic to record levels.

New figures from the Trussell Trust charity show that a food parcel is delivered to a Scots child every six minutes.

Their annual analysis shows that the number of all food parcels they have distributed in Scotland has grown from 173,531 in 2017/18 to 259,744 in 2022/23 - a rise of nearly 50%.

The charity says that "alarmingly" nearly 90,000 were provided for children a leap from the near 56,000 that were given before the pandemic in 2017/18.

The rise has come despite the fact that the number of distribution centres has dropped from 180 to 138.

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The charity is calling for a stronger social security system that ensures covering life’s essentials, like food, heating, and clothes.

And it says the Scottish Government needs to do more to reduce child poverty in Scotland.

It comes as it emerged that child poverty rates remain at the same level as when the SNP swept to power nearly 16 years ago.

Figures show one in four children remain in poverty while “persistent” deprivation is gradually on the rise.

Some 24 per cent of children living in Scotland were in relative poverty, after housing costs, between 2019 and 2022. Although the figure has fluctuated in recent years, the proportion was exactly the same between 2007 and 2010.

And working age poverty stands at 21%, up from 19% between 2018 and 2021.

The Trussell Trust annual analysis also indicated that an increasing number of people are struggling to afford the essentials, with more than 62,000 people in Scotland using one of the 138 Trussell Trust food bank centres for the first time. This is more people than can fit into Hampden Park.

Year on year, the number of parcels received by children has risen by 24% - with 70,977 delivered in 2021/22.

The Herald: Food parcels

Polly Jones, Head of Scotland at the Trussell Trust, said: “These statistics are extremely concerning and show that an increasing number of people are being left with no option but to turn to charitable, volunteer-run organisations to get by and this is not right.

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“Everyone in Scotland should be able to afford the essentials - to buy their own food and heat their homes. This has got harder in the last year, as has been shown by the 62,000 people needing an emergency food parcel for the first time and a huge increase in children needing our support. This is not right.

“Despite these alarming figures, I know we can do something to change this. The percentage increase of people accessing food banks between November 2022 and March 2023 was lower than the increase seen in the first half of the year - April 2022 – October 2022. This may suggest that the extension of eligibility for the Scottish Child Payment from aged six to age 16 and the £5 uplift to £25 a week, that was introduced in November 2022, has made an impact.

“With food banks in the Trussell Trust network in Scotland distributing more parcels to children than ever before, further and immediate action needs to be taken by the Scottish Government, using all resources available to it, to ensure the Scottish Child Payment is meeting the objective of reducing child poverty in Scotland.

"Food banks also eagerly await the publication of the final version of the national plan to end the need for food banks – two years after this commitment was made.

“Food banks across Scotland are seeing increasing demand for their services, and while donation levels remain relatively steady despite the cost of living crisis, they are not keeping up with current need. If you want to help people within your community, please visit your local food bank’s website and find out what items they need donating the most.”

The Herald: Trussell Trust food bank. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The Trussell Trust has also been calling for the UK government to act to strengthen the social security system. It has joined with Joseph Rowntree Foundation in urging the UK government to embed in law an 'Essentials Guarantee' that would make sure Universal Credit payments always, at a minimum, provide enough to the cover cost of essentials such as food, utilities, and vital household goods.

Research by the charities reveals that the £85 weekly Universal Credit standard allowance is at least £35 less than the weekly cost of essential items for a single person, contributing to hundreds of thousands of people being forced to use food banks because they can’t make ends meet.

Shona Singer, project manager at Aberdeenshire North Foodbank said: “The difficulties being faced by many of the people who visit our food bank are extremely challenging. They are cutting back absolutely everything, making every saving possible, and accessing all available financial help and guidance, but it still isn't enough.

"These cases are no longer rare or isolated, and there are far too many who do not have enough to cover the essentials. We are seeing more and more people forced into debt to heat their homes and feed their families, and that’s why Universal Credit must cover the essentials at the bare minimum – to help us end the need for food banks in Scotland.”

The SNP’s social justice spokesperson, David Linden MP, said the figures laid bare the impact of Tory rule over Scotland and the damage being done to Scottish Government efforts to eradicate poverty.

David Linden MP said: “These figures ought to shame even the most hardline Conservatives into immediate action - demonstrating that Tory austerity and economic policy has completely failed.

“They sum up the legacy of this shameful Tory government who continue to cause untold harm to ordinary people in Scotland who didn’t elect them.

“In Scotland we’ve taken steps to eradicate poverty and mitigate the worst of Tory rule, but here we are being made to watch powerless yet again as that work is undone by Westminster and as ordinary Scots are made to pay the heaviest price."

Scottish social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville added: “This report is deeply concerning and it’s clear far too many people are having to turn to food banks. Though, I note it does suggest that our unique game-changing Scottish Child Payment may have helped to slow the rate of demand in Scotland.

“Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm is one of three critical and interdependent missions for this government. As outlined by the First Minister, it is only with the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation that ministers can use all levers other governments have to tackle inequalities. We will continue to urge the UK Government to do more to tackle poverty and the cost of living crisis.

“We will continue to take action within our powers and fixed budget which is why both last year and this, we have allocated almost £3 billion to support policies which tackle poverty and protect people as far as possible during the ongoing cost of living crisis. This included an additional £1.8 million for food groups and an extra £2.5 million for the Scottish Welfare Fund in 2022-2