New Scottish Secretary has no appetite for food bank visit

With demand for emergency food rising across Scotland, Alister Jack won’t be seen on the frontline any time soon.

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More than 210,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Scotland by the Trussell Trust alone over 2018-19 – but the millionaire new Secretary of State for Scotland has no appetite for a food bank visit anytime soon.

Within a week of his appointment, Alister Jack was challenged by SNP’s David Linden as to whether he planned to visit a food bank over his first month in office.

Jack, a privately educated businessman who built a fortune through self-storage and believes no deal would be good Scotland, answered Linden’s written Commons questions with: “I currently have no plans to visit a food bank in my capacity as Secretary of State for Scotland in August 2019.

The evidence suggests such a visit should be a pressing priority.

Stats released in March this year showed the number of crisis food parcels being distributed in Scotland is now is almost double previous estimates.

And those were figures that quantified for the first time the extent of provision by independent food banks in Scotland.

The data, collected by the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) and A Menu for Change, showed that, between April 2017 and September 2018, 84 independent food banks across Scotland distributed 221,977 emergency food packages.

Added to existing data from the Trussell Trust, which works out of 137 food banks in Scotland, the stats showed nearly half a million (at least 480,583) food parcels were distributed by the Trussell Trust and independent food banks during the 18-month period.

The Trussell Trust’s most recent figures on Scottish food bank use, taken from April to September 2018, found a 15% year-on-year increase, which it linked directly to the rollout of Universal Credit.

Over 2018-19, the Trussell Trust gave out 210,605 three-day emergency food parcels in Scotland, a total second only to the north-west of England, on 222,722.

That 210,605 breaks down to 141,195 adults and 69,410 children.

These overall figures did not reflect the use of other types of emergency food aid provision or the scale of people going hungry without accessing any help at all.

In September last year, the Scottish government published for the first time food insecurity stats, showing one in five single parents in Scotland had gone hungry.

Dr Mary Anne MacLeod – the research and policy officer at A Menu for Change, a three-year project partnering Oxfam Scotland with the Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, and Nourish Scotland, with the aim of reducing food bank use – has urged the Scottish government to use its newly devolved welfare powers to help poorer families.

As reported by 24housing ahead of Housing Scotland last month, there are increased concerns at the risk to Scotland’s public finances identified in the mass devolution of social security benefits next year.

A proposed income supplement, specifically intended to reduce child poverty and due to start next year, is seen as ill-defined and unable to be implemented in time to mitigate the devastating effects of Westminster-imposed austerity.

The Trussell Trust stats are a measure of volume rather than unique users, and on average people needed around two food bank referrals in the last year.

Related data is collected using an online system into which food banks enter data from each food bank voucher, and the number of three-day emergency food supplies is recorded.

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