THE number of emergency food parcels handed out to people in Scotland by one charity has increased by almost 80% in four years, according to new figures.

In 2018-19 the Trussell Trust handed out 210,605 aid packages – an increase of 92,916 from the 117,689 food parcels it provided in 2014-15.

An additional 159,849 food parcels were given out by independent food banks in Scotland in 2018/19, with the figures following a trend of increased demand since the roll out of the UK Government’s controversial Universal Credit policy which involves at least a five-week wait for a first payment.

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SNP MSP Shona Robison blamed UK welfare policies and public spending cuts for the rising number of Scots being forced to turn to charities to feed their families.

Robison, who chairs the Social Justice and Fairness Commission set up by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said: “There is no getting away from the fact the Tory welfare changes and cuts are to blame for rising poverty and debt, homelessness and the need for food banks.”

The Dundee City East MSP added: “The grim reality is that the poorest in our society are being forced to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes – something which DWP ministers have finally admitted to, but did nothing to fix.

“Under the Tories, poverty has risen dramatically, yet, day after day, Tory Government representatives obstinately refuse to acknowledge the turmoil their policies are causing and plough on with brutal cuts regardless.

“This new Tory Government must heed the warnings of frontline organisations all over the country, and act before more families and children are pushed into poverty on their watch.”

Meanwhile, independent food banks distributed at least 159,849 food parcels between April 2019 and March 2019, according to the Independent Food Aid Network.

Organisations fighting poverty such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) have also highlighted the UK benefits freeze as one of the biggest factors in exacerbating poverty levels among working families with children.

Rather than increasing each year in line with inflation – to reflect the rising cost of living – most

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working-age benefits and tax credits have been kept at the same value for more than four years, having last risen in April 2015. Low pay and insecure work have also been cited as factors to explain the increase in the number of people using food banks.

Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions said that from April next year the benefits freeze will end, meaning benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, Universal Credit and child benefit will rise by 1.7%. Pensions, maternity pay and disability benefits were excluded from the freeze.

The Scottish Government has also announced plans for a new benefit which will provide low-income families with £10 a week for every child under 16 by 2022, with under-sixes to get early introduction by Christmas next year.

A spokeswoman for the UK Department for Work and Pensions said: “The reasons for people using food banks are complex.

“We spend over £95 billion a year on working-age benefits and Universal Credit supports more than 2.7 million people across the UK. It gives people financial help if they’re unemployed, low-paid or unable to work.

“People can get paid urgently if they need it and 95% of payments are made in full and on time. We’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system.

“Additionally in Scotland, people can choose to be paid twice monthly and have the housing element of their Universal Credit paid directly to their landlords.”