Almost half a million food parcels were given out by independent food banks in 18 months, nearly double the number previously thought, according to new figures.
Data available for the first time shows that 84 independent food banks in Scotland distributed 221,977 three-day emergency food packages between April 2017 and September 2018.
The data, collected by the Independent Food Aid Network and A Menu for Change, builds on existing figures published by the Trussell Trust, which showed their network of 118 food banks distributed 258,606 food parcels during the same time period.
The new combined statistics show that at least 480,583 food parcels were distributed by the Trussell Trust and independent food banks across Scotland between April 2017 and September 2018.
Campaigners from A Menu for Change are now calling on the Scottish Government to urgently use its new social security powers to help prevent people being pushed further into poverty.
Scottish Ministers have promised to bring in a new income supplement by 2022, but campaigners say people facing hardship can’t afford to wait three years for this extra support.
Dr Mary Anne MacLeod, research and policy officer at A Menu for Change, said: “These figures are truly shameful in rich Scotland and they should make for deeply uncomfortable reading for our political leaders: the problem of rising levels of hunger in Scotland is much worse than previously known.
“The Scottish Government should be commended for its plans to help families put food on the table through the new income supplement, but promises to help people in three years’ time are of little comfort to parents whose cupboards are empty right now.
“If the Scottish Government wants to reduce the number of people facing hunger, it must urgently bring forward its plans to top up the incomes of Scotland’s poorest families from 2022.”
Campaigners said the true scale of food bank provision in Scotland is even higher than the combined figures show as a small number of independent food banks were not able to contribute data.
Experts also warn that data on food parcel distribution is “the tip of the iceberg” and only provides a partial picture of the number of people in Scotland who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, with most people choosing to use other ways of coping such as skipping meals, rather than use a food bank.
Joyce Leggate, chairwoman of Kirkcaldy Foodbank , said: “Every day in Kirkcaldy, we meet people who are being driven to our doors because of problems with the benefits system.
“A third of the food parcels we give out go to families with children – the innocent victims of a system which is pushing people into debt, despair and poverty.
“We hope that today’s figures shine a light on the previously hidden role independent food banks are playing in picking up the pieces of a failing social safety net, and spur policy makers into taking decisive action to stop food banks like ours from becoming entrenched in Scottish society.”
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.”