This election campaign has been dominating every headline in the country for weeks now, but despite some positive policies put forward in party manifestos, the overwhelming silence around current levels of poverty and the cost of living crisis has been truly deafening.

In 2024, people’s incomes are so low that they can’t afford even the essentials like food, heating, and rent. Every day, I see people coming through the doors of Renfrewshire Foodbank because they simply do not have enough money. So many more people are needing support that we’ve recently had to open a new warehouse just to be able to store enough stock to sufficiently support our community.

It’s extremely disappointing that we’re not seen any substantial discussions on the cost of living, the issue that the public say is their biggest concern, from any political party. Let alone any parties putting forward policies to support the ever-increasing number of people who are struggling to get by.

The majority of the UK public agree that poverty is a big problem, with almost three in four people believing it's the Government’s responsibility to change this. I couldn't agree more on both counts.

In Renfrewshire, we’ve seen food bank need increase at a rapid rate, especially in the last few years. In 2021 we distributed 7,328 emergency food parcels, and this rose to 10,099 in 2023 – that’s a huge increase, with no sign things are ever going to improve.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a real apathy from all political candidates concerning the levels of poverty in Scotland, they may believe this hardship is a temporary result of the cost of living crisis, but this is not the case. While things like the cost of living payments made a small difference, they only provided people with temporary relief from the constantly rising cost of food, fuel and rent - and our food bank numbers show this. And these short-term sticking plasters have been torn off so it is likely that the next year will be even harder for the people we support.


The next UK Government need to take action and do so quickly before even more people are pulled into hardship. I’d call on them to prioritise urgently reforming the social security system, so it provides better protection for people on the lowest incomes. In the longer term, we need to be working towards an Essentials Guarantee that ensures Universal Credit at least covers the costs of essentials. That is the best shot we have as a nation at ending the hardship that hundreds of thousands of Scots are facing.

Reforming social security so that Universal Credit goes further to cover the cost of essentials would mean people would have the dignity of being able to purchase their own food. They could afford internet so their child can do their homework. And rather than having to walk to work in the rain each day they could purchase a bus pass. And they would no longer be burdened with the relentless stress of an unexpected bill plunging them deeper into debt. It would also mean that we would likely see a reduction in the number of people we are supporting because if people can afford food, they won’t need to be referred to a food bank, and they can move towards the financial security that they deserve.

No one wants to visit a food bank but for many people it is their only option. If you are in a job that doesn’t pay enough, or have caring responsibilities that prevent you from working, or you don’t have family or friends who can support you, food banks like mine are the last resort.

Our team at Renfrewshire Foodbank not only provide emergency food, we provide advice to help people access the financial support they’re eligible for, and we even provide bus tickets so we can be sure that people can actually get their food home.

We provide so much all in one place and ensure that people know they’ve got somewhere they can turn to and trust. However, charitable food aid is not the answer in the long term – we need the UK Government to work alongside the Scottish Government to end the need for food banks.

We need our next UK Government, and all Members of Parliament, to take urgent action to turn back this tide. Updating social security so people are protected from going without the essentials, strengthening workers’ rights so fewer people are forced to turn to food banks. We also need the Scottish Government and MSPs to commit to building more social homes to tackle unaffordable rents that are leaving people unable to afford homes and providing more support for disabled people and improving access to disability benefits.

If these changes aren’t prioritised, poverty and hardship will continue to impact too many people’s lives. It may seem now as though food banks are the new normal in this country, but there is nothing normal about people not being able to afford something as essential as food.

We know what needs to change but we need the decision makers to take action. And only when that happens will I be able to close the door of our food bank for good. Our next UK Government needs to give us hope that this day will come soon.

Crystal Clayton is manager of Renfrewshire Foodbank.