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A sharp rise in the use of foodbanks highlighted in a Scottish Government report today has been condemned as 'absolutely unacceptable' in modern-day Scotland by First Minister Alex Salmond.
Speaking during a visit to the Edinburgh South East food bank, where he spent time packing boxes and meeting volunteers, the First Minister said that the fact that ordinary Scots were having to rely on foodbanks to feed their families in a country as prosperous as Scotland is today was "disgraceful".
Mr Salmond said:
"The volunteers at our foodbanks and soup kitchens across the country provide an invaluable lifeline to hundreds of people right across the country. At this time of year, in particular, it is absolutely unacceptable that anyone in a country as prosperous as Scotland should have to rely on food banks.
"The Scottish Government has provided an additional £9.2 million to the Scottish Welfare Fund. This means that local authorities have the capacity to award an extra 5,600 community care grants and more than 100,000 crisis grants this year to help those who need it the most."
The Scottish Government research has found that all the foodbank providers asked, named welfare reform, benefit delays, benefit sanctions and falling incomes as the main factors driving this increase in demand.
Mr Salmond added: "With the publication of our research, we can now understand more about the extent of emergency food aid in Scotland, and that welfare and benefit changes are a major cause.
"The UK is already one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, and the UK Government’s welfare cuts programme unfairly impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
"I urge the UK Government to publish their long-delayed research into the growth of foodbanks now, to illustrate the impact of its welfare reforms. UK Ministers need to account for the impacts of their welfare decisions which are driving so many into food poverty.
"If Scotland were to become independent, we would have full control of the welfare system. Only then would Scotland have the powers needed to guarantee that our most vulnerable families and groups are protected."
Trussell Trust data from their foodbanks around Scotland shows that they have experienced a substantial increase since April 2011 in numbers of people receiving food aid. Research from Office of National Statistics shows that there has been a fall in income in real terms at the same time as a large rise in food prices in the UK.
The Trussell Trust has also conducted research into the use of food aid and found that, for the first time, benefit changes have superseded low income as the second most important reason for referrals.
Ewan Gurr, the Trussell Trust's Scotland Development Officer, said the charity welcomed the Scottish Government's willingness to research the growing issue of food poverty in Scotland.
"Good policy that prioritises support for those in greatest need can only be achieved by knowing the true scale of the issue and what the underlying causes are.
"In Scotland, the number of Foodbanks operating as part of The Trussell Trust has grown from one to 43 in little more than two years and we have seen five times the number of people using Scottish Foodbanks than we did this time last year.
"The number of men, women and children living on a financial knife-edge due to a lethal cocktail of rising living costs, welfare reform and minimal employment opportunities is unacceptable and it for these reasons that we welcome any effort to focus on the issue of hidden hunger and seek creative solutions."
Scottish Government research into the provision of emergency food aid had found that all of the providers interviewed had experienced an increase in demand. Mr Salmond also called on the UK Government to publish its delayed research into the growth of food banks.
The Edinburgh South East food bank opened in January 2012. It provides emergency food to local people in crisis, which is donated by customers at supermarket collections, churches, schools and various other donations through the year. Volunteers from the food bank provide shoppers with a 'food bank shopping list' and ask that each of them buys an extra item with their shop. The extra item is then donated to the food bank.