Cost of living crisis: People face freezing or starving this winter, charity warns
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said that soaring energy bills are driving “frightening” demand for advice around food insecurity.
It warned that it is already seeing an increase ahead of a “toxic cocktail” this winter of soaring energy bills, growing inflation and higher interest rates – and raised concerns about how people will manage later in the year.
The latest CAS quarterly cost-of-living analysis, which looks at the demand for advice, noted “significant growth” for demand for cost-of-living related advice within areas such as utilities and food insecurity.
Comparing the first quarter of this year to the financial year of 2021/22 as a baseline, demand for cost-of-living utility advice was up from 26% to 35%, while demand for food insecurity advice was up from 36% to 45%.
Meanwhile views of the online advice page “struggling to pay your energy bills” were up 120% and views of the online advice page “Get help with bills” has increased 119%.
Citizens Advice Scotland chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “The Citizens Advice network gives a wraparound service when people come to us for advice because people have complex problems and need help with multiple issues. Our data tracks the patterns and connections between the advice we are giving out and the problems society faces. What we are seeing is frankly frightening.
“More than one in every ten people seeking help with an energy issue also requires help with food insecurity. Let’s be absolutely clear what that means – some people face the prospect of freezing or starving this winter.
“This crisis is affecting everyone, but some people are especially at risk – our data shows higher demand for advice from council tenants, those out of work and those unable to work. That to me suggests broad support alone will not be enough – there needs to be targeted help for the vulnerable.
“We are seeing these issues before a toxic cocktail this winter of soaring energy bills, growing inflation and higher interest rates. People are hanging on by their finger tips and it’s the summer – how are they expected to cope when the temperature drops and bills rise?”
The charity said that more than one in 10 of the utility cases it deals with also see a client need food bank advice.
The report also analyses demand across demographics, and found that council rented tenants and those out of work, or unable to work, are seeking advice related to the cost of living at higher levels than other groups.
CAS urged people to contact it for support.
Mr Mitchell said: “Citizens Advice Bureaux are here for people during this crisis. We helped 171,000 people last year and a further 2.5 million checked our online advice.
“We are for everyone regardless of background or circumstance and it’s so important people understand we are here for them with free, confidential and impartial advice. We don’t judge, we just help.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are very concerned at the hardship households are facing.
“That is why the First Minister has committed to an emergency budget review to assess all opportunities to target additional resources and has convened an urgent summit this week with energy supply companies and consumer groups, including Citizens Advice Scotland.
“We will continue to press the UK Government to use all the levers at its disposal to tackle this emergency on the scale required – these include access to borrowing, providing benefits and support to households, VAT on fuel, taxation of windfall profits and regulation of the energy market.
“In contrast, the Scottish Government has allocated almost £3 billion in this financial year that will contribute towards mitigating the increased costs crisis, including the provision of services and financial support not available elsewhere in the UK.
“We continue to support free debt and welfare advice services and have allocated over £12 million this year to ensure people are able to access the advice, information and support they need to maximise their incomes.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We know that rising prices caused by global challenges are affecting how far people’s incomes go, which is why we are providing £37 billion worth of help for households which is being phased in throughout the year.
“As well as direct payments worth at least £1,200 for eight million of the most vulnerable households, we have taken action so people keep more of what they earn including Universal Credit reforms and a National Insurance cut worth up to £330 a year for the typical employee.
“In addition, everyone will receive a £400 discount on their energy bills over winter and we are also expanding the eligibility of the Warm Home Discount.”