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22 July 2015, 08:08
Scotland's only Conservative MP is to open a foodbank to help people struggling with welfare reform, having previously questioned claims of a link between foodbank use and his party's policy.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell will open a Trussell Trust foodbank at the Apex Centre in Dumfries on Friday.
The Apex Centre is just yards from another foodbank run by the First Base Agency, which has criticised Conservative welfare policies which it said are directly contributing to poverty and foodbank use in Dumfries.
Mr Mundell, MP for Dumfries-shire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, said earlier this year that claims of welfare-related hardship from First Base volunteer Mark Frankland "should be taken with a pinch of salt'' because he is an outspoken Scottish independence supporter.
His comments provoked an outcry at Holyrood's Welfare Reform Committee in February, with SNP and Labour MSPs criticising Mr Mundell's efforts to distance welfare reform from foodbank use.
Mr Mundell told the committee: "The three issues that are most commonly raised in relation to foodbanks are sanctions, delays in benefit payments and low income. I do not accept that those three issues are welfare reform issues.''
A Trussell Trust press release announcing Mr Mundell's visit on Friday states that welfare reform is causing hardship for individuals and families, and that benefit changes are one of the underlying causes of poverty.
Ewan Gurr, Scotland network manager for the Trussell Trust, said: "Like many small rural towns, Dumfries has seen the impact of the rising cost of food and fuel, insecure nature of employment and welfare reform, which has created financial hardship for many individuals and families throughout the entire local authority of Dumfries & Galloway.
"The Trussell Trust is pleased to work with Apex Scotland given their shared commitment to partner with organisations working with people in crisis and complement the other food providers available in Dumfries-shire.''
Trussell Trust added that changes in people's welfare payments can lead to problems such as people having their benefits stopped whilst they are reassessed, which can also include a sanction.
It said: "The new Dumfries-shire foodbank will provide nutritionally-balanced emergency food to people referred by local statutory and voluntary organisations, who will help tackle the underlying causes of poverty related primarily to benefit delays, benefit changes and low income.''
Fiona Dalgleish, centre co-ordinator at Apex, said that the project, which works with 26 local referring agencies to identify people in crisis, is expected to be very busy.
"The foodbank in Dumfries will be an absolute necessity to support local people and help them break the cycle of poverty,'' she said.
Dumfries-shire foodbank is the second of two projects launched by Apex Scotland in partnership with The Trussell Trust.
In November 2013, Wigtownshire foodbank opened its doors to the public and has since reached almost 600 men, women and children.
Figures published by The Trussell Trust in April 2015 reveal that more than 117,000 referrals were made in Scotland for emergency food parcels in the last financial year. This showed a 63% increase in Scotland.
The charity said this data indicates that despite signs of economic recovery, the numbers of people turning to foodbanks continues to grow.
While problems with benefits remain the largest driver of foodbank use UK-wide, there has been an increase in numbers referred due to low income in the last year, according to The Trussell Trust.