By Sabine Goodwin, Co-ordinator, the Independent Food Aid Network

NEW figures have revealed the alarming scale of food bank use in Scotland. We had known things were bad: figures from the Trussell Trust, which runs the largest network of food banks across the country, had shown that it had handed out a staggering 258,606 emergency food parcels to people in need between April 2017 and September 2018.

But what most people hadn’t realised is that, during this period, there were at least another 94 food banks in Scotland also handing out emergency supplies. These food banks were run independently and weren’t affiliated to the Trussell Trust. Until now, nobody had been collecting data on how many food parcels they had been distributing collectively.

That is why the Independent Food Aid Network and A Menu for Change began working with independent food banks to collate data centrally on the total number of food parcels given out. We wanted to establish a better understanding of the true number of emergency food parcels handed out to people facing hunger and hardship.

The results of our research are deeply troubling. Over the same time period that Trussell Trust food banks had distributed more than 250,000 food parcels in Scotland, data from 84 independent food banks showed they had given out a further 221,977 packages – nearly doubling previous figures and taking the combined total to just under 500,000.

Of course, even these figures only provide a partial picture of the number of people struggling to feed themselves and their families, with most people choosing to use other ways of coping such as skipping meals rather than accessing food aid. Last year figures released by the Scottish Government revealed that eight per cent of people had faced hunger.

People should be helped long before they find themselves skipping meals or turning to a food bank as a last resort. The responsibility for providing that support lies squarely at the door of government.

Food banks should never be viewed as a replacement for the welfare state; it’s shameful that, in a country as rich as ours, so many

have no option but to turn to charity for food.

Last month, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, admitted that the steep rise in food bank use across Britain is a result of the botched roll-out of Universal Credit.

Anyone who has ever been near a food bank has known that: the Trussell Trust’s evidence clearly shows that, in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced, food bank use has increased by 52%.

The vast majority of people end up at the doors of a food bank because they simply do not have enough money in their pockets to get by.

Many of the fixes for these underlying issues are the responsibility of our leaders at Westminster. But, with a raft of new social security powers resting with Holyrood, there are things that the Scottish Government can do to

help too.

Scottish ministers have promised to bring in a new income supplement by 2022 to help top up the incomes of the poorest families and prevent them from being pushed further into poverty.

The proposals are welcome and look good on paper, until you remember that families are facing a daily struggle to put food on the table. They simply cannot afford to wait for years for this support.

If the Scottish Government wants to stop food banks from becoming entrenched in our society it must bring forward its plans to help the poorest and deliver on its promises, before it’s too late.