More crisis grants handed out to cover food and heating

There has been a 14 per cent increase in the number of crisis grants handed out to struggling Scots to pay for basics such as food and heating.

There's been a 14 per cent rise in crisis grants handed out.

One in ten of the grants made in 2016-17 were needed because benefit payments were late, with Holyrood’s Social Security Secretary Jeane Freeman criticising the UK government’s “harsh welfare cuts”.

She made the comments after new figures showed £34.7 million was awarded to struggling households from the Scottish Welfare Fund in 2016-17.

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Since the scheme was set up in April 2013, more than 254,000 households have received cash worth £132.6m to help them in difficult times.

Crisis grants can be given to low-income families to help in an emergency situation, with increasing numbers of households applying for support last year.

Councils received 164,965 requests for help in 2016-17, resulting in 116,830 grants being made worth an average of £79 - with the total value of crisis grants amounting to £9.3m.

In addition, community care grants - which help families facing exceptional pressures with one-off items such as a cooker or washing machine - totalling £25.4 million were made in 2016-17.

A total of 42,775 grants were awarded, with these having an average value of £595.

Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, applications to the fund increased by about 21,250 (10 per cent) - with the rise due to a “a large increase in the number of crisis grant applications”.

These were 15 per cent higher than in 2015-16, according to the Scottish Government report.

Ms Freeman repeated calls for the roll-out of the new Universal Credit benefit to be halted.

She said: “We have repeatedly warned that the UK government’s chaotic roll-out of universal credit, particularly the unreasonable six-week wait for first payment, is having an adverse impact on people.”

A spokesman for the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions said: “It’s misleading to link crisis grants to delays as the Scottish Government’s own figures show the vast majority of grants it issued were for other reasons.

“We are rolling out Universal Credit in a gradual, safe and secure way and the majority of people are managing their budgets well. The Scottish Government now has significant welfare powers including flexibility over Universal Credit payments.”