The use of food banks has become a political issue in recent years, and has grown in prominence since the Conservative Party returned to government.

The SNP has repeatedly criticised the impact of austerity imposed at Westminster in Scotland, and argued that the number of Scots using food banks has risen as a result.

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On the party’s website, they made a claim about the increase in children needing to use food banks.

Ferret Fact Service assessed this claim and found it to be Mostly True.

Evidence

There has been a significant increase in the number of food banks across the UK over the last decade, with Scotland no different.

Statistics on food banks are usually supplied by poverty charity the Trussell Trust, however research has found the charity may only account for around half of the food banks in operation across the UK.

In 2009, there was one Trussell Trust food bank operating in Scotland. By 2017, this had increased to 52.

The SNP does not specify exactly what it means by “under the Tories”, but we can assume this refers to the period since the Conservative government came into power in 2010 in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

According to the most recent statistics available for Trussell Trust food banks, released in April 2017, there were 47,955 uses by children and 97,910 by adults.

The earliest published Scottish statistics from 2011/12, show 1,861 children and 3,865 adults were referred to the service. This is a rise of 2,477 per cent, which is supports the assertion from the SNP.

In fact, given the number of food banks operating independently of the Trussell Trust, the number of children forced to use food banks is very likely to be higher.

The figures show “the number of people to whom The Trussell Trust food banks have given three days’ emergency food”. However, they are a measure of volume, and do not mean unique users, so if a family of three was referred to a food bank twice in a year they would count as six users. This suggests a likely lower number of individual users in Trussell Trust food banks.

However, what these statistics do not tell us is whether this increase is down to policies adopted by the Conservative government, particularly the reforms of the benefit system from around 2012.

There is significant evidence, however, that one of the main reasons for referral is delays and stoppages of benefits. A 2017 report on the impact of the new Universal Credit (UC) benefit system said: “Foodbanks in our network tell us that the majority of the people referred to them come because of issues to do with benefit payments”.

A 2016 Oxford University report concluded there was a strong link between increases in benefit sanctions and food bank usage. It concluded that “as the rate of sanctioning increased within local authorities, the rate of food bank use also increased”.

In areas where the UC has been rolled out to single people, couples and families, there has been a 16.9 percent average increase in those requiring emergency food, around 10 percentage points more than the national average increase.

The marked increase in the number of food banks available points to an increasing need for emergency food provisions. It also suggests that many people may have needed them before they existed.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True

The SNP claim that the number of children using food banks has gone up nearly 2,500 per cent is broadly accurate. However the statistics refer to the Trussell Trust food banks, which produces full end of year results. The actual number of children using food banks is not clear as the statistics measure referrals rather than individual users. Given the charity does not account for all the food banks in Scotland, the number of referrals is likely to be higher.

Mostly True

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

The SNP did not respond to a Ferret Fact Service request for evidence.

Photo thanks to the Trussell Trust.

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