Reliance on food banks has soared to “staggering” levels in the north-east, amid claims that a five-year masterplan to regenerate Peterhead has achieved little.
Members of Buchan Area Committee yesterday heard that more and more desperate people were applying for free school dinners or turning to food banks to put meals on the table.
In some parts of Aberdeenshire, food banks have experienced a 152% surge in demand.
It also emerged that 30,510 people had been supported by Fairer Aberdeenshire-funded projects in the past year, while 8,666 people have accessed debt and financial information and advice services.
The update on poverty in the region was described as “sobering” by Peterhead councillor Stephen Calder, who suggested not enough had been done to combat social factors.
“The full effects of Covid on poverty is something that we probably won’t see the full impact of for some time yet,” he said.
“Obviously here in Peterhead, parts of the town are amongst the most disadvantaged in Aberdeenshire.
“It’s more than five years since the last town centre regeneration plan.
“If you ask people what they think of that last project they will probably answer ‘what regeneration project?’ because there’s so little to see for it.”
He said the closure of Modo circus for young people last year and the Compass Point support consultancy in 2019 had only made things worse.
“They stopped due to lack of official support,” Mr Calder added.
“Nothing has been promised so far to replace these services.
“We are trying instead to pick up the pieces of senior government service cuts, the outbreak of Covid and, although we are only one month in, the negative effects of Brexit on disadvantaged parts of our community.
“Peterhead is a town that has great wealth but also great poverty. So it’s divided geographically, socially, economically and even in terms of educational attainment.
“The results of what has happened in the last year has only exacerbated that.”
The report which went before councillors also showed a 50% increase in demand for food bank support last year in the town, while that figure was 152% in Ellon.
Aberdeenshire North Foodbank also had to open a Fraserburgh outlet in September to meet a growing 73% increase in the demand there, while usage was also up 25% and 17% in Huntly and Inverurie, respectively.
Central Buchan councillor Anne Simpson added: “The increase in free school meals uptake and the use of food banks highlighted in this report is quite frankly staggering.
“And some of the worst is still to come.”
Aberdeenshire North foodbank manager, Debbie Rennie, agrees that demand for the charity’s services will increase further in 2021.
“The main reasons we have seen an increase in need is due to loss of income across the board and also for those who are on existing low incomes – in and out of work – have seen their budgets and finances stretched even further,” she said.
“There has been some great mitigating factors locally – like Aberdeenshire Council paying cash directly to families who would usually receive free school meals and in Scotland the Scottish Child Payment being introduced.
“On the positive, what we have seen is that our donations have risen during lockdown.”