THE North Ayrshire Foodbank has warned that the food poverty crisis facing the area is getting worse.

Craig Crossthwaite, the food bank's development manager, issued the warning after shocking new research found more people in North Ayrshire were at risk of 'food insecurity' than anywhere else in Scotland.

Research carried out by Leeds University and the consumer organisation Which? analysed a total of 363 councils across the UK, assessing neighbourhoods on measures such as the distance to large supermarkets, the number of families on free school meals, and the number of households without reliable access to affordable, nutritious and healthy food.

The study found that in 29 council areas, at least half of all residents were living in communities which were at high risk of food insecurity.

Three were in Scotland, with 65 per cent of North Ayrshire residents living in such neighbourhoods, ahead of East Ayrshire (59 per cent) and West Dunbartonshire (50 per cent).

Residents of Harlow in Essex were found to be at the highest risk of food insecurity in the UK.

Some parts of North Ayrshire are already home to some of the worst levels of deprivation in the whole of Scotland, according to the Scottish Index on Multiple Deprivation, which divides communities across the country into ‘data zones’.

Irvine Times:

But the new research suggests that the struggle to avoid food insecurity isn’t limited to those areas already worst affected by poverty.

Speaking on a BBC Radio Scotland programme discussing the research, Craig Crossthwaite, development manager at the North Ayrshire Foodbank, said: "We have always understood from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation that North Ayrshire was quite high up, but it is sad to hear that the wider population, outside of these data zones, is also suffering. 

"We did notice a huge drop in food donations during the past two years, so we suspected that the cost of living and interest rate rises were hitting our supporters.

“But they were still managing to donate even if they were less.

“These are very disappointing figures.

"It is horrendous for those who are coming in to the food banks and we know through partnership working that rent arrears and energy poverty, have doubled and trebled debt and are really strangling households’ capacity to get food on to the table. 

"We have a wider network of community larders which are doing tremendous work within the community."

Irvine Times: The food bank is reliant on generous volunteers and donors

Wendy Low Thomson, one of the volunteers at the Largs Foodbank, said; "When you see the vast increase in the usage of the food bank in North Ayrshire, it speaks volumes.

“I know a community larder has opened up in Largs, and another is opening in Millport. And they are needed.

“But in this day and age it is absolutely horrific that communities need to have them.

“Why is it so bad in our area? We are told that Largs is a very affluent area, but why have we got a food bank?

"North Ayrshire Council needs to step up and take a look at the situation and ask itself why it is so bad.

"It has declared a climate emergency, but these stats speak for themselves. They really show that North Ayrshire needs to declare a food poverty crisis.

“Where is this going to end? The cycle is just going to continue otherwise.

Irvine Times:

“I appreciate that a lot of good work is going on with the larders and other support mechanisms for school meals, but much more is necessary, as these figures clearly indicate.

"Over the past year we have noticed a drop in food donations immensely, which you can more than understand given the cost of living crisis.

“The ‘grab bags’ at Morrisons, where people pick up a bag and donate food, have also seen a drop.

“We really can’t afford to be wasting money on initiatives such as cycle tracks on the Largs promenade. 

"Where are we going to be 20 years down the line? People are starving, and needing support, and people are worried about the future.

“There needs to be a strong action plan in place to break the cycle."

North Ayrshire Council's depute leader, Councillor Shaun Macaulay, said: “This is a damning verdict on the Tories’ welfare system, food banks are a sign that the welfare state is failing. 

"It also highlights just how far Labour have fallen that they want to keep Tory welfare policies, like the two child cap – keeping children in poverty.

“In total contrast the Scottish Government have introduced the Scottish Child Payments, lifting 90,000 out of poverty in Scotland.

“The SNP administration in North Ayrshire have invested £400,000 in food larder provision to ensure these lifeline services are in communities across the area, we have enhanced food provision in North Ayrshire schools, including expanding the very popular winter warmer.

“In extremely difficult financial circumstances, the SNP have committed to introducing free school meals to all primary school pupils. This is a substantial investment from Scottish Government and will be a real benefit to families.”

A council spokesperson said: “The national cost-of-living crisis has made this an increasingly challenging time for so many people and the council, working with partners, has responded by allocating significant resources to help make a difference for those that are struggling.

“Support has been specifically targeted to address what people need financial help with, covering everything from household bills to access to food with dignity.

“We are aware of the data which has been used to produce this analysis, and understand the issues faced by many individuals and communities across the region.

“The results have been derived from factors including distance from supermarkets and availability of online deliveries, which presents challenges in making meaningful comparisons across different areas.

“Our ongoing engagement with communities includes discussions on topics such as access to affordable food, which allows us to co-design solution together.

"At present our Fairer Food Network has 15 live community larders, run by communities and supported by council staff, with a further larder in Cumbrae opening soon.

“Food banks are a key partner to help ensure affordable and reliable access to food. In addition, there are a range of food growing and sharing projects which are supported within communities.

“We are continuing to look at ways of improving food provision to ensure people have access to food and to reduce food insecurity across the region, and this action sits alongside the steps we are taking with partners and communities to address the wider drivers of poverty.

“We would urge anyone in need of help to visit the council’s website at where information on a range of supports in relation to food, energy clothing and other essentials is available.”