WELFARE reform by the UK Government is the reason behind the increase in the number of people using food banks, MSPs were told.

Charities who operate foodbanks told the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee it was obvious benefit cuts and sanctions, often wrongly imposed, were leading to greater poverty and hunger.

The committee heard of an increase in demand since the reforms started and a sharper rise since last April when the bedroom tax began and were told of more families and people in work unable to make their income last.

On Monday the Evening Times revealed Oxfam, which is involved in a foodbank in West Dunbartonshire, said it had people handing back food which needed cooking because they couldn't afford the electricity or gas.

Others told of similar stories across the country.

Dennis Curran, chairman of Loaves and Fishes charity in East Kilbride, said there has always been food banks but not on this scale. He said: "There is a fallacy that foodbanks are misused and people are layabouts. These are people who have no money and they are frightened.

"We had a call from social work asking for food that didn't need to be cooked because the person had no electricity.

"My seven-year-old grandson could tell you it's because of benefit cuts. People are being penalised for being poor and for not having a job. People are coming to us and they are broken. Breaking their hearts because they can't feed their weans."

Ewan Gurr of the Trussell Trust which operates food banks in Glasgow said there increase was "terrifying".

He said in the last year the number of people helped in Scotland had gone from 17,000 to 56,000. He said: "Last year 155 were because of benefit changes, which includes sanctions. That has risen to 20% this year. That is 11,200 people. It is a huge concern.

"Welfare reform is inextricably linked to the increase in demand for emergency food."

Conservative MSP Alex Johnston claimed that the reason people were seeking help was not down to government policy but the process of decision making at a local level.

He said: "We talk about the welfare reform process, but there is an issue about the way DWP offices work. I think there are two difference issues there."

Linda Fabiani SNP MSP for East Kilbride said: "The people who set the policy are responsible for the process. It is a cop out to say there is a difference between the policy and the process. The rise in foodbanks is a clear indication. Let's not deny it, the evidence is there."