By Lynn Malone
As World Food Day dawns a Christian charity is demanding Westminster answer questions – and have a public enquiry over the growing number of people having to use foodbanks to survive – with over 350,000 people pleading for food in the last six months.
But Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) fears official figures are only the tip of the iceberg, with the problem being much bigger under the surface.
The Trussell Trust, who help with food poverty in places like Bulgaria and Scotland claim 13m people live below the poverty line in the UK and blame welfare reform such as the Bedroom Tax for people being plunged into poverty.
CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch said: “The number of people who have to use foodbanks today is truly shameful. It paints a bleak picture of a Dickensian society. There is something very wrong when so many people are unable to meet the most basic need of putting food on the table for themselves and their children.”
“Scottish CAB advisers have referred nearly 1,000 people to foodbanks since April. But we also see many other clients who are on the verge of needing a foodbank. And we know that there are others who are suffering quietly at home, going without food because they don’t want to face asking for help. Some are taking out loans to pay for their food – and so stacking up debts they know they won’t be able to repay.
Ms Lynch claims the reason for the rise in foodbank cases is because household incomes are not keeping up with the cost of living. She said those who use foodbanks are actually working, but their wages are too low to sustain them and their families. The other half are people on benefits, whose low incomes have been squeezed even further by harsh policies like the Bedroom Tax. And Ms Lynch feels that further welfare cuts will only make the situation worse.
The Trusts’ report coincides with Scotland’s First Ministers’ plans to raise concerns over the impacts in Scotland of UK decisions on youth employment, welfare reform and support for major events at a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) in Downing Street.
Other issues that Alex Salmond will point to include: Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies which suggests that 50,000 more children in Scotland will be living in relative poverty by 2020, as a consequence of UK government welfare reforms including the bedroom tax.
The Trussel Trust plan to write to David Cameron asking him to look into questions on food poverty recently raised by the UK government’s poverty tsar Frank Field MP.
Their Executive Chairman, Chris Mould, said: “We said in April that the increasing numbers of people turning to foodbanks should be a wake-up call to the nation, but there has been no policy response and the situation is getting worse.
The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable.
“It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people. The time has come for an official and in depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in the usage of foodbanks. As a nation we need to accept that something is wrong and that we need to act now to stop UK hunger getting worse.”
Ms Lynch praised organisations like the Trussel Trust. The CAS executive said: “Foodbank charities like the Trussell Trust are doing a great job helping people in need. But food parcels in themselves don’t address the underlying causes of poverty. Governments need to understand the extent of this crisis, and take action to address it.
“The rise in demand for foodbanks is a symptom of the hardship that families are facing in today’s economy. Food parcels should not be seen as a policy response to that issue; rather, policy should be focussed at ensuring that families do not experience these problems at all and are able to put food on the table. That doesn’t seem like much to ask of a civilised society in 2013.”