FOODBANK usage has soared with over 1,000 extra emergency handouts given to people across Inverclyde in the last year.

Between April 1, 2018, and March 31 this year, just over 7,600 emergency three-day parcels were handed out by staff and volunteers at the Inverclyde Foodbank - an increase of 1,200 on the same period in 2017/18.

Charity The Trussell Trust says more than 2,000 of those were specifically for children - an annual rise of 236.

It comes as the local foodbank issues an urgent appeal to replenish low stocks.

The area's MP, Ronnie Cowan, recently met with the UK employment minister at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) office in London and agrees with charity bosses that the government's controversial universal credit benefits system is continuing to hit people hard.

Mr Cowan said: "It's deeply troubling to learn from The Trussell Trust of the increase in foodbank usage in Inverclyde. "Only recently, I issued notices on my Twitter and Facebook accounts of the food and drink products needed.

"The UK Government's failed agenda of austerity and cutting the welfare budget has ultimately led more people to foodbanks and also left the Scottish Government trying to mitigate the worst of its impact.

"At two recent, separate, meetings I had with the minister for employment and minister for disabled people I highlighted how their department policies were pushing my Inverclyde constituents into hardship. "Its time for the UK Government to fully fund welfare support and remove the five-week wait for the first payment of universal credit."

Across Britain, foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network distributed almost 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to help those in crisis - a record rise of 19 per cent on the previous year.

Just under 600,000 parcels went to children, according to the charity.

Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, said: "What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right."

Mr Cowan has again written to the UK Government highlighting the increasing reliance on foodbanks locally but officials say it is wrong to blame it on universal credit.

A DWP spokesperson said: "It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal credit is available to claimants on day one.

"It also cannot be claimed that universal credit is driving the overall use of foodbanks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.

"The trust's own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays.

"The best route out of poverty is to help people into sustainable employment which, with record employment, we are doing.

"For those who need a safety net we have invested £10 billion into universal credit since 2016 alone, confirmed the benefits freeze will end next year and made changes to make universal credit fairer for women and families.

"Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether."