THE UK’S biggest food bank network has unveiled a five-point plan as it calls for urgent action in the run-up to Christmas.

The Trussell Trust warns volunteer groups could struggle to meet dem- and this winter unless urgent action is taken to improve Universal Credit.

Many recipients face waits of up to six weeks when transferring on to the benefit, which is being rolled out across the UK as part of welfare reforms aimed at saving the UK Government millions.

Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland gave out almost 76,800 packs of emergency supplies in the first six months of the year alone, including 24,100 to children. The total was up by 20 per cent on the same period in 2016.

However, the spike is higher in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out for six months or more, with an average increase of 30 per cent on the previous year reported. The Trussell Trust says increased demand has put it on course for a new record of food parcels distributed.

The charity fears the situation will worsen in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when demand for food is traditionally high.

It is calling for a reduction in waiting times for Universal Credit claimants, a three-month repayment grace period for anyone in receipt of advance loans, and better adminis- tration by welfare agencies to prevent people falling into poverty or debt as a result of paperwork errors.

The five-point plan also includes calls for improved transition for people moving on to Universal Credit from previous systems and a reassessment of the current four-year freeze on benefit levels.

New analysis of Scottish food bank data shows issues with a benefit payment remain the biggest cause of referral for a three-day pack of supplies.

Of those referred due to payment delays, half of cases were related to a wait for a first Universal Credit award. Volunteers are now urged to give time and supplies to help local groups.

Tony Graham, Scotland director at the Trussell Trust, said: “In the first half of this year a record number of people facing destitution and hunger have been referred to The Trussell Trust food bank network in Scotland.

“Food banks will be working hard to provide dignified, non-judgmental support to people but we are concerned that the ongoing impact of welfare reform – especially the Universal Credit roll-out – combined with the increased demand we traditionally see over winter, will leave foodbanks struggling to feed everyone that comes through the doors.

“We call on the Government in Westminster to do more to mitigate the worst effects of this reform.

“This must include a reduction in the six-week wait for payment that our foodbanks tell us causes misery, destitution and hunger.

“Food banks in Scotland are already acting as an unofficial charity safety net, attempting to catch people let down by a welfare system that should be there for vulnerable Scottish families when they need it most.

“Not only would it be morally wrong for us to become a de facto arm of the welfare state, if welfare reform and the Universal Credit roll-out continues unchanged, we simply would not be able to catch everyone that falls.”

The Department for Work and Pensions says Universal Credit is helping more people into work more quickly, that most people are paid in full from the start and help is available for anyone affected by delays.