SCOTLAND’S food banks have warned the Scottish Government they are struggling to meet a huge rise in demand amid the cost-of-living crisis, with one in three parcels being  given to children and demand outstripping supply.

In a joint letter to Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison, the heads of the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) said they are having to ration supplies and cut back on supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to people relying on their services with volunteers “over-stretched and exhausted”.

They told Ms Robison the problems had become more acute since the UK Government withdrew an uplift of £20 per week from Universal Credit last October which had been paid to families during the pandemic. The cut coincided with the first energy price cap rise to £1,277.

Last week UK energy regulator Ofgem said the typical household energy bill was set for a further rise by £800 in October, bringing it to £2,800 a year.

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“Over the last 12 years, increasing numbers of people are being pushed to the doors of food banks because they haven’t got enough money to buy food.

"Since the cut to Universal Credit and the start of the cost-of-living crisis in October 2021, demand for charitable food aid has steadily increased,” said Polly Jones, of the Trussell Trust, and Sabine Goodwin, of IFAN.

“People who were already struggling to afford food are being hit the hardest as energy, food and travel costs all become out of reach. 

“Alarmingly, we are seeing a growing number of parcels being provided for children, more than one in three food parcels issued in the Trussell Trust network last year were for children. And the next 12 months look bleaker still.

“Many food bank teams are struggling to cope as demand outstrips resources and they make difficult decisions about rationing supply and dipping into financial reserves.” 

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They said food banks are having to cut back on supplying fresh fruit and vegetables and that volunteers are “overstretched and exhausted”.

Ms Jones and Ms Goodwin set out a list of demands to the Scottish Government to alleviate the crisis.

They are calling for:
* An increase to the Scottish Child Payment to £40 per week from £20 per week for each child and for it to be extended to all eligible children by the end of the year. They also want to see take up rates - currently at 70 per cent improved - and warn without these measures the Scottish Government will not meet its child poverty reduction target.
* The Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) to be prioritised as an essential cash first service to help people facing financial crisis.
* The cost-of-living crisis to be classified as an “‘exceptional circumstance” in SWF criteria to enable people to access more than three payments in each year.
* The SWF budget must be increased significantly to help local authorities meet rising demand over the next financial year.
* The Scottish Government must work with Cosla, which represents local councils, to ensure there is the necessary resource and support for local authorities to administer crisis grants.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We agree with a cash-first approach and it is embedded in our work. Our draft plan for ending the need for food banks takes forward a cash-first approach so people can access food and other essentials with dignity and choice. In addition as well as plans to increase the eligibility to our Best Start Foods benefit, we will also move it to a cash payment instead of pre-payment card.

“Our Scottish social security support also takes this approach ensuring benefits support people directlyThat is why we have introduced a range of financial support not available elsewhere in the including the Scottish Child Payment.

“The Scottish Government has already taken action to support people as much as possible, with almost £770 million per year invested in cost-of-living support. 

“We have increased eight Scottish benefits by 6 per cent, closer to the rate of inflation, and introduced a range of family benefits not available elsewhere in the UK.”

Last week the Conservative Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that every UK household in will be given a £400 rebate off their gas and electricity bill this winter as part of a £21 billion package to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.

The grants will be funded by increased borrowing and the introduction of a £5 billion windfall tax on oil and gas companies in a significant U-turn.

About eight million households on means-tested benefits will receive an extra £650 in direct payments, while pensioners who qualify for the winter fuel payment will receive an additional £300. Those who are disabled will receive an extra £150.

Charities supporting people on low incomes welcomed the long-awaited measures but were disappointed that they did not go further, with some saying that they failed to address the root causes of the problems and said they were a “sticking plaster” solution.