FOODBANKS have been around in the UK for over twenty years – although obviously the idea of charitably providing food for those in need stretches back through the Victorian soup kitchens and into the mists of time.

But the idea that this kind of support is not only needed in the 21st century but is growing at an exponential rate is, to be quite honest, appalling.

The Trussell Trust opened its first UK food bank in 2000 and operates over half of food banks in the country. IFAN, the Independent Food Aid Network, represents food banks outside the Trussell Trust.

Both the number of food banks and the quantity of emergency food parcels they distribute have increased. In February 2021, there were over 1,300 Trussell Trust food banks in the UK, in addition to over 900 independent food banks.

Both organisations report an increasing, year on year, demand for the food parcels they supply.

Foodbanks run by groups in Clackmannanshire like The Gate and Sauchie Active 8 make a huge contribution and the work they do is important, the effort and commitment by those involved is inspiring, but – and let there be no mistake about this – the need for their existence is abhorrent.

There is something very wrong in a society where people are forced to turn to charitable help for free food parcels, so it is very welcome news that the Scottish Government is bringing forward proposals to end the need for food banks.

A draft national plan has been produced, which is supported by food bank operators, and views are being sought from the public with the consultation running until the 25th of January.

Those who run food banks know that the service they provide is a crisis management situation and what is desperately needed is a long-term solution to the deep-seated problems of poverty.

Over the last year the Scottish Government has invested around £2.5billion to support low income households, including nearly £1bn to directly support children.

Despite the fixed budget within which we have to operate and the limited powers devolution grants Scotland over the welfare system, action is being taken to support those in poverty, including discussions around establishing a minimum income guarantee for Scotland.

As part of the right to an adequate standard of living, people need to be able to access food that meets their dietary, social and cultural needs and this plan shows the way forward.

Just before Christmas last year I led a debate in the Scottish Parliament on a Member's Motion calling for the £20 uplift in Universal Credit to be made permanent.

As I noted in that debate, it was the Tory leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, who described Universal Credit as a "vital safety net for nearly half a million people across Scotland", and it is to his shame and that of the rest of his party that they failed to support that proposal.

As we approach another Christmas, that £20 a week has now been cut, making the holes in the UK's safety net that much bigger.

Scotland can – and will – do better.