Food banks across Scotland and the rest of the UK have seen an increased demand as the cost-of-living crisis rages on.
And now charities are worried if these food banks face closures due demand outstripping supply and funding issues, this could lead to more people across Scotland going hungry.
The Trussell Trust, which supports a network of 1,300 food banks across the UK, is warning food banks face the hardest winter yet. The organisation is preparing to provide a predicted 1.3 million emergency food parcels in the next six months, including half a million for children.
The charity found the gap between donations and food being distributed is widening and food banks have already used up the reserve stock that would normally help them get through winter.
As more people find themselves unable to afford the essentials, food banks are struggling to meet the increased need and are having to purchase three times as much food as they did last year.
This has led to certain food banks experiencing funding issues, such as one food bank in Kirkcaldy, whose operators say they have to raise £20,000 or face the possibility of closing.
Ian Campbell, its chairman, said the increase in demand, lack of donations and rise in energy bills and inflation had created a “perfect storm” that meant the service could disappear if it did not receive more money.
One in five Scottish families on a low income have gone cold and hungry at some point this year, according to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The charity fears this could worsen if both the Scottish and UK governments do not announce adequate financial support for food banks in their budgets.
Chris Birt, JRF associate director for Scotland, said: “Food banks are one of the few safety nets available to people in poverty. While ultimately there should be no need for them, given the level of demand among low-income households if more were to close it could jeopardise the health and well-being of so many families already struggling.
“While the Scottish Child Payment and increased bridging payments from the Scottish Government will provide some relief, households in Scotland will be nervously awaiting the budgets of both the UK and Scottish governments to see if the help they need and deserve is coming.”
So far this year, food banks across the UK have spent on average almost £1,400 a month of their own funds topping up food donations in comparison to last year where they spent just over £750 a month, according to the Trussell Trust.
The Trussell Trust has launched its first large-scale emergency appeal in a bid to prevent food banks over this winter.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “We never wanted to run an appeal like this. We would rather there was no need for food banks at all, but right now they are on the frontline of this cost-of-living emergency. We have no other option.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats are continuing their call for the UK Government to uplift Universal Credit to help those struggling to get by.
Ahead of the Scottish budget announcement in December, Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dems work and pensions spokesperson, said: “I hope that the Scottish Government are preparing measures to help the poorest make it through the long winter months ahead.”
Scottish Labour named the concern for food banks a “shameful sign”, adding, “there is no time to waste enshrining a statutory Right to Food in Scots law”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is doing everything we can within our limited powers and finite budget to support people, including allocating £1 billion in services and financial support not available elsewhere in the UK. Every single penny that the Scottish Government has been allocated for cost-of-living measures will go towards supporting people through this cost-of-living crisis.
“As recommended by the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network, we have focused on delivering a cash-first response to hardship, so that people are able to access the essentials they need. Our £41 million Scottish Welfare Fund can also help people with additional costs, and our cost-of-living website signposts people to the advice and support available.
“However, most of the key policy levers needed to address the crisis still lie with the UK Government. We continue to urge them to use all the levers at their disposal to tackle this emergency on the scale required, including by uprating benefits in line with inflation, and introducing a £25 uplift to Universal Credit.”
Several councils contacted by The Scotsman said they were offering increased financial support to food banks in their areas.
Fife Council has allocated funding to help support community food providers to alleviate financial and food pressures and food bank operators can apply for a small grant scheme, which closes mid-November.
West Lothian has agreed a budget provision of £298,679 to the West Lothian Food Network for October to March next year to help the network continue to support households experiencing food insecurity. The Glasgow City Food Plan was developed by the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership (GFPP) and approved in June last year to offer help to those facing food inequality.
An Edinburgh City Council spokesperson said the authority regularly engages with and supports food banks across the city. In East Lothian, the council has agreed to give the East Lothian Foodbank £30,000 from the Low Income Household budget. In addition, the council is also giving £27,000 to the FareShare Hub to buy supplies it will then give out to food pantries and an additional £55,000 is going to food initiatives such as Community Kitchens to increase their provision of hot meals over the winter.