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19 October 2015, 07:10
The scourge of food poverty and possible solutions to Scotland's increasing reliance on foodbanks will be investigated by a new group.
Representatives from poverty organisations and charities will convene on Monday for the first meeting of the short life working group, to identify the issues which push people into food poverty and discuss how they can be addressed.
The group, chaired by the Secretary of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, has been asked to make recommendations to the Scottish Government by February 2016.
The first meeting coincides with the Poverty Alliance's annual Challenge Poverty Week which runs from October 17 to 23 and aims to challenge the stereotypes around poverty and increase public support to combat it.
The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust show that a total of 117,689 people picked up a three-day supply of groceries from their Scottish foodbanks in 2014-15.
Of those, 36,114 were children. This is more than eight times the number helped just two years ago.
Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said: ''It's heart breaking that anyone should be left hungry and unable to afford to feed their families in a country as prosperous as Scotland.
''By bringing together a range of experts who support people in food poverty we hope the group will come up with a food strategy that will reduce the need for foodbanks over time.
''Food poverty cannot be solved overnight which is why the group will look at how we can address some of its long-term causes and whether we can take a more joined up approach to welfare benefits advice, health and employment support services.
''I look forward to hearing the group's recommendations on how we can ease the pressure on food banks, tackle food poverty and create a fairer Scotland.''
The chair of the group, Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, said: ''I am delighted to be chairing this independent Working Group on Food Poverty, whilst appalled that in a country as wealthy as Scotland the number of people going hungry is increasing by thousands each year.
''Our starting point will be that we need to reverse that trend. The group will bring together people with a wide variety of experiences of tackling food poverty including, critically, those with direct experience of what it means not to have enough for you and your family.
''I hope that together we can highlight what is working, what needs to change and what the Scottish Government and others can do to bring about a hunger free Scotland.''
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance said: ''TThe growth of foodbanks in recent years is the surest sign that we need to do more to tackle poverty in Scotland.
''Challenge Poverty Week is aimed at highlighting that solutions to poverty do exist, and the work that volunteers across Scotland do week in and out providing emergency food aid shows that people are committed to tackling the scandal of food poverty.
''But it is necessary that we find longer term solutions to food poverty. So we welcome the Scottish Government convening this new group to find lasting solutions to the problem.
''Through it we will be able to draw on the experience and expertise of those volunteering in foodbanks, people using emergency food aid and those involved in community food projects to make a real difference in the future.''