THE UK’s biggest food bank network “can’t continue to pick up the pieces” as Universal Credit drives more people below the breadline, its Scotland head says.

Laura Ferguson says demand will rise at the country’s 53-strong Trussell Trust network despite repeated calls to tackle food poverty.

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Almost 90,000 emergency supply packs were given out to cash-poor households between April and September in a 15% year-on-year jump.

Around one third of those to benefit were children and problems with social security – including delays, changes and insufficient payouts – were behind 70% of claims.

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Hitting out at the lack of progress, Ferguson – who has urged the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to pause the rollout of Universal Credit – said next year is set to be no better.

She told The National: “Demand is going to continue to increase. More and more people are going to need a food bank.

“It’s ridiculous that we are having to continue giving to food banks in our local communities. The public have been amazing. But with there always being an increase in demand, it puts extra pressure on our food banks. They have to find the extra resources in terms of food and getting it out there.

“It can’t carry on like this, we can’t continue to pick up the pieces.”

Ferguson went on: “We have been talking about this for years and years and seen increase after increase but we are obviously not getting the systematic change that is necessary.

“We don’t want food banks to still be here in another five years’ time.”

The charity says Universal Credit is “increasingly driving referrals” and “the only way to prevent even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter is to pause all new claims” unless the five-week wait for the first payment is reduced.

The organisation welcomed changes announced by Philip Hammond in last week’s Budget, but says more action is needed as much of this will not come into force until July 2020.

A petition calling on the UK Government to “fix” Universal Credit from the End Hunger UK campaign, backed by The Trussell Trust and a range of charities and faith groups, will be delivered to 10 Downing Street today.

The DWP said: “Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment.

“We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on Universal Credit by £1000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays, and introduced £1 billion to help people moving over from the old benefits system to Universal Credit.

“This is on top of the improvements we have already made – advances have increased to 100%, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move onto Universal Credit.

“The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.”

But Ferguson said: “People should have enough cash in their own pockets to be able to put food on the table themselves.

“It is a complex problem. We need to work collectively to solve it.

“Food banks are being normalised and that’s a worrying thing.”