I SUPPOSE it’s understandable that just about every news programme this week has focused on the presidential election in the USA – quickly followed by the shock of “did they really just do that?”

The focus on US politics has meant a few other issues maybe went under-reported in the past week. This includes the latest damning figures from the Trussell Trust which revealed another increase in the use of food banks.

In Scotland, the Trussell Trust has revealed that 63,794 three-day supplies of emergency food were distributed to those in crisis between April and September 2016, with 32 per cent of these being for children.

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This is an overall increase of around six per cent from the same time last year. But even this figure masks the real extent of the issue in some communities. For instance, food bank use in South Lanarkshire has increased by 70 per cent. In contrast some areas saw a reduction in food-bank use but as the Trussell Trust reports, some of this could be through better work with local authorities and other agencies referring those in need to benefits which they weren’t aware they were entitled to.

It appears as food banks start to become embedded within communities a constructive partnership between them and other voluntary and statutory agencies such as councils has helped increase awareness and access to crisis grants via the Scottish Welfare Fund, and this has resulted in a decrease in food-bank referrals in some areas.

When looking at the information from the Trussell Trust it should be remembered that it was only in 2011 that it opened its first food bank in Scotland. This year it has opened its 52nd food bank and is operating in 28 out of 32 local authority areas in Scotland. Between 2011 and 2013, Scotland experienced faster growth in the number of food banks launching with the Trussell Trust than any other region in the United Kingdom. That has slowed down as coverage has increased, but it seems food banks are one of the few industries Tory austerity policies have brought to Scotland. It should also be remembered that there are other local food banks in Scotland which don’t fall under the Trussell Trust umbrella and the real figures for food bank use are likely to be even higher than the frightening ones reported by the Trussell Trust.

As before, the latest report from the Trussell Trust reveals that problems with benefits remain the most significant reason for food bank use, accounting for a total of 42 per cent of referrals – 25 per cent due to benefit delays and 17 per cent due to benefit changes.

The proportion of people referred to Trussell Trust food banks because of low income has increased in Scotland from 21 per cent from April to September 2015 to 24 per cent over the same period in 2016. This is the highest increase in referrals for this reason in the first six months of any previous financial year.

Unfair benefit sanctions have a devastating impact on household incomes, driving many to food banks as the only option for feeding themselves and their families. Evidence shows this leads to increased use of food banks, as well as huge amounts of stress on individuals and their families, and that is simply not acceptable.

Sanctions are when an individual’s support is suddenly withdrawn because one of a number of strict and ludicrous conditions are not met – if a parent misses an appointment at the Jobcentre because they were at a child’s sick bed it doesn’t matter, they will still have their support withdrawn. If I could eradicate benefits sanctions entirely so that no-one would have to endure the misery of having their financial support unfairly or suddenly cut off, I would. But unfortunately I can’t do that, and I’m determined to really make a difference with my private members’ Bill and not to waste this important opportunity by staging a protest.

My Bill will introduce a process of assessing a person’s circumstances such as their caring commitments, whether they are at risk of homelessness or suffer from a mental ill-health condition that could be exacerbated by a sanction.

However, I know my Bill may not be perfect and so I want to hear from you – about whether you agree that there should be a code of conduct for all Jobcentres to adhere to, and should those with particular vulnerabilities, at the very least be shielded from this punitive regime? Please go to the SNP’s website ( http://www.snp.org/tacklingsanctions ) or use the links on the SNP’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to fill out the survey on my Bill so that together – if the UK Government’s sanctions regime has to exist – we can make it a little bit fairer for everyone.

This week also saw the End Child Poverty Coalition publish new figures providing a new Child Poverty map of the UK. In my constituency the level of child poverty is estimated to be around 25 per cent and in one area as high as 33 per cent. This is completely unacceptable and is a stunning indictment of the austerity agenda being followed by the Tory Government.

The charities, faith groups and unions behind the End Child Poverty Coalition are warning that the benefits freeze in place until the end of the decade will mean that as prices rise, low-income families will find it increasingly hard to pay for the same basic essentials. At the same time, recent cuts to in work support under Universal Credit further penalise low income working families – pushing more working families below the poverty line.

I echo the calls of the report from End Child Poverty – and urge the UK Government to use the Autumn Statement to end this austerity obsession and instead bring forward an inclusive budget that will truly support low-income families and their children.

The SNP have challenged the Tories on austerity. It is a choice, not a necessity. The reports from the Trussell Trust and the End Child Poverty Coalition shine a light on the scars Tory policy has left across Scotland.