CAMPAIGNERS have called for urgent action to reduce demand on food banks, warning the new surge in Covid cases is putting their operation at risk.

The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) says the pandemic has exposed the need to increase access to cash to tackle food poverty instead of relying on volunteers to distribute emergency parcels.

Food banks have faced soaring demand as a result of the coronavirus, while having to try operate safely amid the risks of the virus to both volunteers and clients.

The Broke Not Broken food bank in Kinross has seen a 10-fold rise in the number of parcels being handed out – from 32 in May 2019 to 320 in May last year.

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Chair Annie McCormack said it had taken steps to reduce the risk of volunteers being exposed to the virus, including changing to providing doorstep deliveries only and distributing vouchers for supermarkets.

She said: “We have a system in place where we give everyone PPE, we make sure everyone is up to speed with processes and what is expected of them.

“We have moved to doorstep deliveries as we are a rural area and our premises is miniscule.

“Doing doorstep deliveries has meant we are able to provide the service to far more people than previously, but my concern now, especially with the new variant being so much more contagious, I am asking people to put themselves in danger to do a volunteering role providing people with food.”

McCormack said the reasons for food insecurity were wide, including issues such as not having access to mental health counselling and fuel poverty.

She added: “Providing a food parcel to someone and putting a volunteer in a position of danger – is that the right way to do things or is it making sure people have enough money to buy their own food?”

Ryan McGeady, project manager at Drumchapel Food Bank, which is currently seeking more volunteer drivers, said demand had shot up at the start of the first lockdown and has remained high ever since.

He said there was a core team of about 10 people providing help to an average of 150 families a week through both deliveries and socially-distanced collections – and it was challenging finding enough volunteers.

“At the moment it is hard, some people can maybe help for a bit and then they can’t because they are helping their own family,” he added.

“It is a struggle especially with deliveries as well, as it is not something everyone is comfortable doing, even if they do have a car.”

A letter has been sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson by IFAN calling for action including making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent – which is currently in place until the end of March – and ending the five-week wait for a first payment.

Sabine Goodwin, co-ordinator of IFAN, said: ”Lockdowns can only mean further job losses and financial struggles for yet more people in Scotland and the rest of UK.

“To make matters worse, the new Covid-19 variant is putting our food bank teams, their beneficiaries and public health at greater risk.

“The Prime Minister must take urgent action to reduce the footfall to food banks ensuring easily accessible cash grants in every local authority while addressing gaps in the social security system and raising wage minimums.

“It’s critical that both the Covid-19 transmission rate and the need for charitable food aid are reduced.”

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 She added: “The only way to end the need for food banks is to ensure everyone can afford to buy food.

“The root cause of rising food bank use is lack of income and increasing numbers of emergency food parcels won’t solve that.”

Responding to the letter, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We know this will be a difficult time for many which is why we have boosted welfare support by billions of pounds, extended furlough and introduced £170 million to help children and families stay warm and well-fed.

“And for anyone eligible for Universal Credit, urgent payments are available so no one has to wait.”