By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
The Scottish Government has pledged £1m to support foodbanks in Scotland in a bid to battle the effects of Westminster austerity cuts.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the move at the SNP conference on Friday to combat the effects of changes to the benefits system which has left the most vulnerable struggling to meet basic needs.
Figures from the Trussell Trust show that the number of people seeking help from foodbanks in Scotland has increased by a massive 400 per cent from 14,318 people in 2012/13 to 71,428 people in 2013/14. Almost a third of those who used foodbanks last year were children.
Commenting on the funding announcement, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that in a country as wealthy as Scotland, Westminster’s actions have forced over 70,000 people in Scotland to rely on foodbanks to survive.
“It is the grim reality of Westminster’s cuts that has seen foodbank use increase by 400 per cent in the last year alone. It doesn’t have to be this way and the referendum in September gives Scotland the chance to do things differently.
“While Westminster’s cuts are forcing people to rely on foodbanks, the Scottish Government is doing what it can to mitigate Westminster’s actions. That is why the SNP Government has announced a £1m package of support for foodbanks.”
The Scottish Government’s two-year ‘Emergency Food Aid Action Plan’ will see £500,000 given to organisations that are helping to meet the “unprecedented” demand for foodbanks, while another £500,000 will be given to FareShare, a charity which redistributes food from supermarkets to communities and charities. FareShare said the money would allow them to expand services beyond Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.
Thousands of people in Scotland have been hit hard by Westminster policies such as the Bedroom Tax and the restructure of the benefits system. Ms Sturgeon described the situation as “depressing” and said it was “disturbing” to hear of foodbank providers in Glasgow having to include nappies in emergency parcels.
The latest figures from the Trussell Trust have raised fears of a widening gap between the rich and the poor throughout Britain, with even the UK capital London – which is considered to be the country’s economic driver – seeing foodbank use rocket.
Ms Fabiani said that Scotland urgently needs more control over its financial affairs in order to reverse the crisis.
“What Scotland really needs is the responsibility for our own decisions on tax and welfare so that people are no longer forced to rely upon foodbanks,” she said.
“With a Yes vote in September, we will be able to ensure that Scotland’s tax and welfare system reflect the priorities of people in Scotland and does not let people down as Westminster has so disgracefully done.”
Last year, Citizens Advice Scotland highlighted that contrary to popular belief, many people using foodbanks are working. The organisation explained that household incomes were not keeping up with the cost of living and wages were too low to sustain many workers. Furthermore, Citizens Advice warned that the situation was likely to get “even worse” as the UK Government continued cutting benefits.