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21 September 2015, 08:13
Anti-poverty charities are calling on the Scottish Government and employers to do more to help families avoid crisis in a new report on foodbank use.
The study found that while gaps in the social security safety net are the key reason why people in Scotland are turning to food banks, action at Scottish and local level could also help hard-pressed families.
The report is published by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, in association with the Trussell Trust and Oxfam Scotland.
It builds upon UK-wide research titled Emergency Use Only which found that for between half and two thirds of food banks users interviewed, the immediate trigger for food bank use was linked to problems with benefits or missing tax credits.
The Scottish report launched today tells the stories of six families who have accessed food banks in central Scotland.
It makes a series of recommendations for Scottish policy makers, based on the Emergency Use Only findings, including facilitating access to emergency financial support like crisis grants and using future social security powers to be devolved to Scotland to boost family income.
John Dickie of CPAG in Scotland said: "Food bank use and income crisis is increasing, largely as the result of changes to the social security system implemented by the UK Government, but regardless of what is triggering the income crisis, local authorities, the Scottish Government and employers have a real opportunity to do more to protect the health and wellbeing of children and families.
"They can all do more to poverty proof services, improve access to affordable transport, support struggling employees and ensure all families get the benefits and tax credits they are entitled to.
"We urge the Scottish Government, local authorities and employers to listen to the often distressing stories told in this report and take a harder look at what could be done here and now to help hard-pressed families in the face of a failing UK social security system.''
Latest figures from the Trussell Trust show that, in 2014/15, 117,689 people, including 36,114 children, were provided with three days of emergency food by Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland.
This was up from 14,318 people two years earlier.
Other recommendations made in today's report include ensuring that affordable, reliable transport is available locally, removing financial barriers to local services such as schools and health services and using public purchasing power and wider influence to improve the practice of employers.
Ewan Gurr from the Trussell Trust, said it was a "timely report'' and welcomed the research and recommendations.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: "We must do more to fulfil peoples' right to food, and all levels of government must examine what more they can do to reduce the need for foodbanks in Scotland.''
Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil MSP said: "It is unacceptable that anyone should experience food poverty in a country as wealthy as Scotland. This report builds on previous Trussell Trust research that shows welfare changes and benefit cuts are having a significant impact on the most vulnerable in Scotland.
"The Scottish Government is doing all it can to protect people and to tackle poverty in the face of the UK Government's austerity agenda and welfare reform programme that is estimated to remove #6 billion from Scotland's economy in the six years to 2015-16.
This has led to 210,000 children in Scotland now living in relative poverty which is unacceptable.
We are saving families money with the expansion of free school meals for 259,000 pupils in P1 to P3, have increased early learning and childcare and championing the Living Wage to protect the lowest earners.
"In addition our #296 million welfare mitigation measures include the £1 million Emergency Food Action Plan helping 26 projects provide aid and redistribute food from retailers to communities.
"We want to do more where we can and will consider all proposals in our work to tackle child poverty where it occurs.''
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "There is no strong evidence that the use of food banks is directly linked to welfare reform.
"The vast majority of benefits are processed on time with improvements being made year-on-year, and the number of sanctions in Scotland is falling.
"We continue to ensure a strong safety net is in place, providing more than £80bn a year in support to those of working age.''