NEW Scottish Government plans for ending food bank use are a missed opportunity, the Trussell Trust has warned.  

The charity, which runs 43 food banks in Scotland, said they were “disappointed” by the new paper published today, saying it failed to show the “requisite leadership and urgency."

However, the Trust did praise the SNP administration’s flagship Scottish Child Payment.

They said it had resulted in a substantially smaller increase in the number of parcels provided for children in Scotland compared to other parts of the UK. 

According to their analysis, there was a 17 per cent increase in Scotland compared to 42% in England, suggesting that “the extension of eligibility for Scottish Child Payment from aged 6 to age 16, and the £5 increase to £25 a week, has made an impact.”

READ MORE: Scots council tops child poverty list as one in three kids affected

Nevertheless, the cost of living crisis had led to a considerable demand for food banks across the UK. The Trussell Trust’s annual data show a record 259,744 emergency food parcels were given out by their network in Scotland in 2022-23 – a 30% increase compared to 2021-22. 

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, unveiled the new nine-point plan for ending food bank use on Monday. 

It commits the government to establish a new £1.8 million “Cash-First Programme” to help reduce the demand for emergency food parcels by improving urgent access to cash.

The government will run a competition to find “eight area-based partnerships to strengthen cash-first responses.”

Each partnership will then be provided with up to £200,000 over 24 months to recruit a coordinator and "take forward improvement projects." 

Another measure will be a new scheme which sees those in desperate need given shopping cards as an alternative to food bank referrals.

An earlier pilot with Citizens Advice Scotland, found “a strong preference for cards over a food parcel, with many reflecting on the dignity, choice and flexibility a card provided.”

The government says they will also test the use of cash grants as an alternative to cards “where locally appropriate.”

Another key plank of the plan is to improve the money advice available to people when they experience crisis. 

The plan also includes up to £623,000 funding for the British Red Cross to continue a Scottish Crisis Fund, to help people at risk of destitution, including survivors of domestic abuse, and those with no recourse to public funds.

READ MORE: MSPs set to vote on new oil and gas licenses after Labour ban call

Ms Somerville said: “Whilst none of us want food banks, we recognise the important role they play for people in need.

"This plan, the first of its kind by any UK Government, will support people who face food insecurity and will move us closer to our longer-term ambition of a country where there is no need for food banks.

“We want to ensure we reach people in need and by providing a cash-first approach, backed by advice and support, we will support people to strengthen their incomes and prevent future hardship and crisis, allowing them more choice and dignity.”

The Herald:

The minister added: “Without the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation we can’t eradicate poverty, but we are taking all the action we can to support people within our limited powers and fixed budget.”

While the plan has been backed by some substantial funding, as last December’s budget indicated, investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund, which provides crisis grants to households, will only be “maintained”. 

The Trussell Trust said they were "disappointed" by the lack of new money. 

Polly Jones, from the charity, said: “If we are to tackle poverty and end destitution in Scotland, we need all action to be laser-focused on the goals set out in this plan. 

“However, [the Scottish Government] has missed an opportunity to address record levels of food bank use with the requisite leadership and urgency. 

“Poverty is a political choice and bold aspiration must be matched with bold action. 

“We need long-term action to secure the ambition we share of a Scotland where everyone can afford the essentials.”

Ms Taylor said the Trust also wanted to see “significantly more investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund to meet the growing need and prevent the need for food bank referrals.”

“We’re disappointed that there is no mention of the much-needed increased funding in the plan,” she added.

“We know that when the Scottish Government does things differently, it makes a real difference. 

“We are seeing this with the Scottish Child Payment which is starting to make an impact in reducing the need for food banks for families with children.

“While last year, our network distributed the most parcels ever provided for children in Scotland, we saw a smaller percentage increase in the number of parcels provided for children from November 2022 to March 2023 in comparison with the same period in 2021/22 than Northern Ireland, Wales, or England. 

“There was a 17% increase in Scotland compared to 42% in England, suggesting that the extension of eligibility for Scottish Child Payment from aged 6 to age 16, and the £5 increase to £25 a week, has made an impact.

“We already have enough evidence to show what changes are needed to tackle poverty and end destitution in Scotland. It’s time to get on with this work now, making full use of the Scottish Parliament’s powers, to ensure everyone can afford the essentials.”

READ MORE: Ayrshire health, wellbeing destination plan for former mine

Scottish Labour Social Security spokesperson Paul O’Kane said: “Tackling food poverty was meant to be a defining mission of the SNP, but two years on this problem has only gotten worse.

“Food bank usage is at a record high and food prices are skyrocketing, but the SNP are chronically underinvesting in tackling this crisis.

“The SNP’s failure to get a grip on this issue is a national disgrace. They must act now and outline a real plan to tackle food poverty.”