FOOD-BANK use in Scotland is “disproportionately higher” than in any other part of the UK – and still increasing. In a major report, the UK’s largest food bank network today revealed welfare problems and low income are pushing more Scots than ever to turn to charity for emergency food parcels.

The Trussell Trust provided three-day packs for almost 133,730 people in 2015-16 – a new record.

The total includes more than 43,960 children and covers almost every part of Scotland, with all but five local authority areas within the Trussell Trust network.

The organisation works across the UK and overall figures show Scotland is second only to north-west England in the number of referrals received.

Volunteers in that area – which is the third most populated in the UK with more than 7.1 million inhabitants – handled 160,050 cases.

But despite being home to just 5.3m people, Scotland’s total is only 26,320 behind and the head of the charity’s Scottish network has raised concerns about the “alarming” level of need north of the Border.

The news comes as the number of people helped across the UK exceeded 1.1m, including 415,870 children.

Ewan Gurr said: “The figures released today highlight an alarming number of people hitting a crisis and being unable to buy food.

“The main increase has been to the number on low incomes, which are leaving people without enough to live on. In addition to that, almost half of referrals in Scotland are due to a benefit-related difficulty.

“In Scotland, we have heard from people using food banks due to the heart-breaking reality of losing a job in the oil and steel industries, others feeling a sense of despair after delays to a Universal Credit payment and some who have experienced sanctions that have impacted on their physical and mental wellbeing. We encourage our policy-makers to listen to those using food banks and learn from their experiences.

“This way we can ensure the right changes are prioritised to help reduce the hunger and poverty we see in food banks every day.”

Today’s new record high marks a 13.6 per cent increase on 2014-15, when almost 117,690 referrals were made.

As many as 27 per cent of all clients went to the charity as a result of benefits delays, while 22 per cent sought help because their low incomes had left them unable to cover the basics.

Across the country, all but seven areas recorded an increase, with no change seen in Moray and reductions found in East Lothian, Falkirk, Renfrewshire, Midlothian, West Lothian and Inverclyde, where demand dropped by 22 per cent.

However, referrals in North Lanarkshire shot up by 121 per cent to more than 2,100 people and in Dumfries and Galloway the opening of the group’s only new Scottish food bank saw cases rise by 290 per cent to almost 1,780 from 460 the previous year.

The number of people seeking help in the Eilean Siar (Outer Hebrides) area went up by almost 68 per cent, with job losses in the oil and gas sector blamed for a near-39 per cent rise in food bank use in Aberdeen, where 3,630 referrals were recorded.

However, demand remains highest in Glasgow, where 21,840 residents used Trussell Trust food banks, up 24 per cent from 17,580 the previous year. Only Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, the Shetland Isles, Stirling and West Dunbartonshire are not within the charity’s network and last year clients shared 1,122 tonnes of food, most of which was donated by the public.

The report said: “The growth in demand contrasts with the opening of only one new food bank in Scotland, in Dumfriesshire, which opened in July 2015. A survey of Scottish food banks anecdotally indicated that insecure employment, low wages, delayed wages and problems accessing working benefits are among the main reasons working people are referred to a food bank.

“Scottish food banks continue to report the impact of sanctions and the variety of delays and changes to benefits, while some have also reported an increase in new referrals due to delays in Universal Credit payments.

“The figures also demonstrate that Scotland is second only to the north-west of England in terms of the number of referrals to food banks.

“When the overall populations of the north-west and Scotland are compared, the figures appear to indicate a disproportionately higher level of food bank use in Scotland than any other part of the United Kingdom.”

‘If it wasn’t for this help I don’t know where I would be now’

THEY are not statistics, they are people – these are the faces of some of those given a lifeline by Trussell Trust food banks.

They are just three of 133,000 Scots who turned to the network for emergency supplies and support as the impact of Westminster welfare reform and unemployment hits ordinary people. However, these three men have shared their stories explaining the importance of the UK-wide charity in their lives.

They include 45-year-old Paul, whose story was revealed in The National yesterday in a moving piece by Lesley Riddoch.

A former chef laid off when a Dundee hotel closed, Paul thought he would be able to get new work but is now living on £36 a week as a result of benefit sanctions.

Believed to be the first person in the city subjected to the three-year sanction by the Department for Work and Pensions, Paul is a regular food-bank user and has collected 11 crisis parcels.

He said: “I was living on just under half the normal benefit. Somebody put me in touch with the Trussell Trust and I have been visiting them backwards and forwards for 16 months due to the fact that I have been hit with benefit sanctions until 2018.”

Paul, right, was embarrassed to use the service but said: “Once you are here and get to meet the staff and the people, pretty much everybody comes from a similar background, if not worse. It’s a great, great, place for people to come who really need it.”

Kenny, right, from Airdrie, suffered a delayed Universal Credit payment. He said: “It was terrible. With Universal Credit you don’t have to sign on but you need to take all the information with you. They want everything and you gie them everything and they want more.

“It’s nice to go down and talk to somebody.”

Former oil and gas sector worker Jamie, right, from Aberdeen, revealed how The Trussell Trust helped him following redundancy and eviction. He said: “If it wasn’t for the food bank I don’t know where I would be right now.”