Money problems have always made up a fair proportion of Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) cases.
Alongside employment, housing, legal and consumer disputes, our advisers have always had to deal with clients who were in debt or unable to pay their bills. However, since the credit crunch, the proportion of these money cases has risen steeply.
Every Scottish CAB now has its specialist money advice experts as well as the “generalist” advisers who dominated the movement in the past.
This has been a necessary response to the changing needs of Scots in the wake the credit crunch. It has given the CAB service a unique insight into the patterns that underlie those needs.
Every day in Citizens Advice Bureaux offices all over Scotland our advisers sit across the table from people who simply can’t afford to get by. They just don’t have enough money coming in to live on.
Such people routinely make choices about whether to skip lunch and keep the heating on that day, or vice versa.
Three things concern us in particular. One is that many of the people who have been hit hardest by the credit crunch are those who were already struggling financially, and so were least able to cope.
Secondly, there has been a concurrent growth in the number of companies which blatantly seek to profit from the desperation of such people – eg through high-interest loans or bogus services.
And thirdly, all of this is happening against the background of seismic changes to the welfare system, which means that the safety net which is supposed to protect such people often no longer exists, or is hanging by a thread.
• Margaret Lynch is chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland
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