Poverty in Falkirk: Politicians react to huge increase in demand for food bank support
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Falkirk Council leader Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn said: “Local community food providers have reported an increase in demand in recent months, particularly due to the removal of the Universal Credit uplift, this will be further compounded as we anticipate an increase in demand for support with food during self-isolation as cases increase.
"We expected that there would be increased demand for support from the foodbanks/community food providers to increase over the festive period as people have other expenses at this time. Some families request support in order to have a bit of money to buy their children something for Christmas which is understandable and, additional funding was made available to Community Food Providers in advance of the holiday period to help with this as well as donations from the communities which helped to ensure that no child was left without a Christmas gift.
"Falkirk Council provided ongoing financial support to 12 community food organisations, enabling them to support around 546 households. Six of these organisations requested additional funding over Christmas and new year to support a further 209 additional households who had requested support in advance of the holidays.
‘We are very aware of the challenge people face just now with energy costs, further compounded with the abhorrent reduction in universal credit pushing people further in to poverty. So far this financial year Falkirk Council has supported 1,278 low income households with a payment towards fuel costs. This includes people required to self-isolate, those living in off gas areas, and people in temporary accommodation. Additionally we regularly refer people to Home Energy Scotland who can make a £49 payment to energy providers for households meeting their criteria as well as providing advice and support to reduce fuel costs.
“This however, only helps to mitigate the impacts to those in greatest need locally, it does not address the root cause, fuel poverty is a huge issue not just in Falkirk but across the country, energy costs are a reserved matter to the UK Government, they have the power to act and address the issue of escalating energy costs, if they do not we will undoubtedly see more people pushed in to poverty, this is a real dereliction of a duty of care to our most vulnerable, children and families particularly at a time when people are in the greatest need and I would call on the Tory Government to act now as no one should have to choose to eat or heat.”
Councillor Robert Bissett, Labour group leader on Falkirk Council, said: “The fact that we need food banks is a disgrace. The fact that people have to choose between heating their homes or feeding their families is a disgrace.
"However, what is frightening is that while we know all these people need to be provided with help, others will be slipping through the net. People missing out because they don’t know where to turn to, too proud to seek help, people whose difficulties might have been spotted by one or other of the various council community services that have now been drastically reduced as a result of SNP cuts.
“We could and should be doing so much more to support families. If the Scottish Government had not cut £170 million from the council budget since 2011 with another possible £28 million due to be cut in this coming year we might have been in a position to do that. Instead, Nicola Sturgeon’s incessant attacks on local government multiply these problems and block any efforts we should making to look after our communities. No one in this country should be going hungry or not have the essential equipment to cook food.
“So while the SNP will embark on another flag-waving exercise before the council elections in May, hoping people will forget the years of damage they have done, Labour will put the interests of the people of the Falkirk area first.”
Councillor James Kerr, Conservative group leader on Falkirk Council, said: “This is a worrying trend. I understand how difficult things are for a lot of families. This is not confined to people who are on benefits. Some of these people have jobs.
“With regards to food banks. Unfortunately they are a part of today’s society. All the food banks do an incredible job.
“I had the privilege to help during the first lockdown the Pavilion group in Slamannan which does tremendous work. During that time, there was a bond between them and several other food banks.
“These groups have become the heart of the community.
“With regards to heating or eating. This has been a concern for me for some time. No family should need to chose heat or eat. I have met and visited with several of these families, it’s heartbreaking.
“In this day and age, people shouldn’t need to visit food banks, sleep rough, go without food, or heating, or rely on benefits
“People keep saying this is a changing world, with a changing environment. For these people who rely on all these benefits. It is a changing world, but for the worst.”
Falkirk East MSP Michelle Thomson said: “We are seeing the hard-hitting impact of the increasing cost of living on ordinary families on a daily basis. Reports of people choosing to either eat or keep warm is a shameful indictment of living in the UK in modern times. Without swift action things will only continue to worsen particularly when the price cap is lifted on energy costs.
“The UK government must act immediately in order to ease the pressure on families and individuals struggling with the costs of living. Low-wages, benefit cuts and the continued impact of Brexit on costs are seeing children and families plunged into poverty. Boris and his incompetent Tory government are partying while people in our communities are struggling – a catastrophic dereliction of duty.
“The SNP have called on the UK government to deliver an emergency package of support – including the reinstatement of the £20-per-week Universal Credit uplift, matching the Scottish Government’s Scottish Child Payment, a low-income energy payment and an introduction of the living wage to £9.90. Boris Johnson needs to act on this now, or devolve the appropriate powers including borrowing to Holyrood so that Scottish MSPs can help ease the burden on families and individuals who are struggling right now.”