There was really no shock the full rollout of Universal Credit earlier in the year would have an impact on Falkirk families.
The fact it has had such a devastating effect so quickly has caught a lot of people and organisations a little off guard, however.
Falkirk Foodbank was prepared for an increase in demand when the new form of benefit hit home in April, but the actual numbers of people now looking to engage with its vital service has caused great concern.
Jim Couper, foodbank centre manager, said: “We are seeing a 19 per cent increase in people using the service since April this year as Universal Credit comes fully into the Falkirk area.
“People have got to wait on their benefits now and there’s a lag period which has a knock on effect – people are falling into debt because they are forced to take out loans to cover that period as they wait for their benefits.
“This will be happening continuously throughout the year so the figures are only going to increase. That’s why we are taking action just now.”
Up to April this year the foodbank, which is operated by the Trussel Trust, had been sending out six tonnes of food to people every month, but since April – and the introduction of Universal Credit – that has gone up to 8.2 tonnes.
So the demand for the service has increased, but the level of donations coming in has remained the same, meaning there are some empty shelves starting to appear in the normally jam packed Food Bank stores in Tamfourhill.
Falkirk Foodbank is now appealing to the public, businesses and other organisations to continue the great work, donating food for the cause, but also try to give that little bit more due to this large increase in demand.
“We are struggling for certain kinds of food,” said Jim. “There’s a shortage of vegetables in general, tinned tomatoes, peas and tins of meat have also gone down. What we will have to do, if this continues, is to look at reducing what we put in our boxes.
“We always try to put enough food in to last six days, but that may have to decrease. We have approached businesses to help and they can also encourage their employees to bring along donations.
“During the school year pupils are also encouraged to help the food bank through a wide variety of events, but unfortunately they are on their summer break at the moment.
“We just want to ensure everyone who needs the help gets it. As soon as we opened the doors of the food bank right back at the start the demand was there.
“The donations have never stopped either over the years – that community spirit is still here, it’s never gone away.”
The situation the food bank now finds itself in is not just confined to the Falkirk area.
Jim said: “Every food bank in the UK has experienced a similar increase in demand because of Universal Credit. We had our suspicions it would be this bad, but still we felt we could handle it.
“However, it’s getting to the stage now we are starting to worry about it. Last year we fed 6522 people – with Universal Credit that’s definitely going to go up this year.”
Earlier this year Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said: “It’s a disgrace families in Falkirk district and across Scotland are having to rely on emergency food parcels just to get by.
“Westminster policies are making it harder for families to cover even the basic costs of food, housing, and bills.”
Most of the people who use the service are referred to the food bank by social services and CAB and those organisations have also seen an increase of people affected by Universal Credit.
As always the food bank does what it can to get rid of the stigma surrounding poverty by operating a thoughtful and discreet service.
Jim said: “We deliver the food to people’s houses and it just looks like another home delivery from Asda or Tesco. A lot of parents don’t even tell their children they are getting deliveries from the food bank.
“We are just here to make sure people don’t go without. We still hear about people who have not eaten in two days.”
When it comes to food donations there are various outlets available.
“People can come here with their donations,” said Jim. “Or they can bring them to the local supermarkets who have donation boxes.”