ALMOST half a million food parcels were handed out in Scotland between April 2017 and September 2018, with more than 7,000 distributed in Argyll and Bute, according to new statistics.
The shocking figures released this week reveal the extent of the food poverty crisis across the country as the number of food banks continues to grow and reliance on emergency aid increases.
The data, collected by the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) and A Menu for Change, gives a glimpse of the scale of assistance being provided by independently run food banks to people facing hunger in Argyll and Bute.
Of the five independent organisations in the region participating in the study, 7,195 three-day food supply packages were given out in just 18 months.
Data had only previously existed for the Trussell Trust’s operations, which form the UK’s largest network of food banks.
Across Scotland, 84 independent food banks together distributed 221,977 emergency food packages between April 2017 and September 2018.
Over the same time period the Trussell Trust distributed 258,606 food parcels, bringing the known Scottish total to 480,583.
Shock figures show Helensburgh food bank use is soaring.
Mary McGinley, chair of Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank said: “We are deeply dismayed by the rising demand for emergency food aid we’re seeing locally.
“We don’t want to be here; we would much rather see our political leaders address the causes of food insecurity through the introduction of the living wage, a better social security system and easier access to emergency welfare payments to allow people to buy their own food.”
The Advertiser reported in January that the number of people using the area’s food bank during the 2018 festive period had risen by more than 40 per cent compared to the previous year.
The food bank also announced earlier this year a pilot scheme offering free holiday lunch box meals for school children is to be trialled during the Easter break to try and address food poverty in young children and families.
Helensburgh food bank’s plea over holiday meals scheme.
Sabine Goodwin, IFAN coordinator who led the research, said: “These statistics are deeply troubling and provide yet more evidence of the growing number of people in Argyll and Bute and across Scotland who are unable to put food on the table.
“They also demonstrate the enormous collective effort of independent food bank volunteers and staff who are doing all they can to try to prevent people in their communities from facing hunger.
“Of course, we and they all know the long-term solution to hunger isn’t giving out food; it’s raising income.
“People should be helped financially well before they find themselves having to turn to a food bank as a last resort.”
Research shows that problems with the UK-wide benefits system is one of the key drivers of food bank use, but Scottish campaigners from A Menu for Change say that the Scottish Government must urgently use its new social security powers to help prevent people in Scotland from being pushed further into poverty.
Scottish ministers have promised to bring in a new income supplement by 2022 to help Scotland’s poorest families, but campaigners say people facing hardship can’t afford to wait three years for this extra support.
Last week, Argyll and Bute SNP MP Brendan O’Hara revealed the story of a Helensburgh family who approached his office in the town starving and desperate after “ticking the wrong box” on a Universal Credit application form.
Starving’ Helensburgh family let down by Universal Credit, says MP.
Mr O’Hara said: “This problem is founded on political choice and penalises our most vulnerable citizens.
“Compare and contrast with the ‘dignity and respect’ agenda behind the Scottish social security system.
“What happened to this young family was a direct result of UK government policy, a policy which is Dickensian, leaving some folk literally starving.
“The levels of inequality across the town are astonishing, ranging from great personal wealth to enormous levels of poverty.”
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell MSP said: “I absolutely agree that it is unacceptable that people are having to rely on charity to eat in a country as prosperous as Scotland and that this government has to spend £125 million to mitigate against the worst impacts of UK Government benefit cuts.
“We will also provide £3.5 million in 2019-20 for our Fair Food Fund to support organisations responding to food insecurity.
“Significant work is being taken forward on our low-income supplement and an update on this will be provided to parliament by June.
“Scotland is taking concrete action to eradicate child poverty – we are the only country in the UK with legal targets to do so, all while continuing to mitigate the welfare cuts and failed policies of the UK Government which are set to reduce social security spending in Scotland by £3.7 billion in 2020-21.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The reasons for people using food banks are complex. Meanwhile for those who need extra support, the UK Government spends over £90 billion a year on support for those who need it, including those who are on a low income.
“In addition, Scotland has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”