NEW research on foodbank use has provided powerful evidence that a small increase in weekly income can help thousands of households in Glasgow avoid the need to rely on foodbanks.

The research by Castlemilk Law Centre, Glasgow Community Food Network and Glasgow University law students looked at foodbank use in Glasgow’s South East before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between January to March 2020, 1,269 food vouchers were issued across south east communities, including Govanhill and Castlemilk, which fed over 3,000 adults and children in that period.

However, the demand for food vouchers steadily dropped over the course of the pandemic, coinciding with the introduction of the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit (UC) from April last year.

The demand for food vouchers in the south east during Covid-19 was 1,000 between April to June 2020; 815 for July to September; 709 for October to December; before falling to 677 between January to March 2021.

The January to March food voucher figures for 2021 were almost 50% down on the same period before the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

Angus McIntosh, principal solicitor at Castlemilk Law Centre, said: “The increase in Universal Credit of £20 per week reduced levels of poverty. This increase may have enabled those who were just below the breadline to afford to buy food and avoid going to the foodbank.”

The research findings may appear counter-intuitive as there were fears food insecurity would be exacerbated at the onset of the pandemic. In April last year, the Food Foundation predicted that 600,000 adults in Scotland were facing food insecurity.

As the report authors note at the start of lockdown large-scale closures of “non-essential” industries resulted in employment falling by 15,000 in Scotland between April and June 2020 and unemployment rising to 4.5%.

At the same time, incomes reduced, and the number of vulnerable individuals forced to self-isolate soared, impacting on access to food.

The furlough job retention scheme along with other measures including the UC uplift were announced on 20 March last year, and there is little doubt that all of these measures were essential in avoiding an economic and humanitarian disaster.

The Castlemilk research tells us that the level of social security payments was far too low before the pandemic.

The rise of foodbanks across the UK coincided with the erosion of the welfare system from 2010 onwards. The Trussell Trust documented a 5,146 percent increase in emergency food parcels distributed between 2008 and 2018. In that decade its food bank network went from distributing around 26,000 parcels a year to handing out more than 1.33 million. The international organisation, Human Rights Watch, has argued that the rise in food poverty can be traced back to four main UK government policies.

In 2013, the government introduced an arbitrary financial cap on the amount of welfare benefits a family could receive. This was lowered further in 2016. The benefits cap reduced the income levels of families with children under the age of five, and single parents, most of whom were women. From 2016, the government implemented a freeze on working-age welfare benefits to unemployed households. This meant they didn’t keep pace with inflation.

This policy removed £580 to £825 per year from the poorest families with children. Meantime, the price of food and other living essentials continued to rise annually.

In 2017, the “two child limit” was introduced for child tax credit, which was a means-tested benefit to families with children.

More recently, the government replaced tax credits and working age means-tested benefits with UC, which has been plagued with delays in payment.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies “Those in the lowest-income 10% of the population lose the most from UC”.

The UK government will remove the £20 per week UC uplift from next month - a huge mistake that will create a massive return to reliance on foodbank charity.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government introduced the weekly £10 Scottish child payment towards the costs of supporting a family. It’s a means tested benefit available for a child under 6 years of age.

In last week’s SNP/Green coalition deal we were told the Scottish Government would: “Significantly increase the level of the Scottish Child Payment, in order to maximise the impact on child poverty, with the full £20 payment being achieved within the lifetime of the Parliament”.

While this is welcome it isn’t enough. The Scottish Government has the power to prevent a rapid increase in food poverty and should do s. Five years is too long to wait.