Poll: A third of Scots worry they will not be able to afford essential bills over coming year

A third of Scots are worried they will not be able to afford essential bills such as housing costs, food and clothing in the coming year, a survey has found.

The exclusive poll, by Survation, found 44 per cent of people north of the border had cut back on spending on non-essential items since the pandemic hit, while 28 per cent had reduced the amount they spend on food and groceries.

Meanwhile, just under a quarter said they could not afford to pay off any more than the minimum required of their credit card balance every month – or were not able to pay the minimum.

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Many people have been hard hit by the pandemic, experiencing a drop in wages due to furlough or losing their job.

A third of Scots are worried they might not be able to afford essential bills
A third of Scots are worried they might not be able to afford essential bills

Earlier this week, UK Government figures revealed 100,000 fewer Scots were currently on furlough compared to the previous month as the scheme begins to wind down.

A total of 173,100 jobs were furloughed at the end of May, compared to 275,700 a month earlier. At the height of the pandemic lockdown, in May last year, nearly nine million people in the UK were on the furlough scheme.

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The figures were released as the SNP demanded the UK Government publish an urgent impact assessment of its planned cuts to financial support this autumn.

People are worried about being able to afford essential bills in the coming year. Picture: PA

The furlough scheme has been providing employers with 80 per cent of a worker’s salary up to a cap of £2,500 a month.

But under the first stage of a gradual scaling back introduced on Thursday, employers must continue to pay 80 per cent of salaries to qualify for the scheme, but they will receive only 70 per cent of that sum from the government, meaning employers have to find 10 per cent of the wage bill themselves.

From August until the end of September, when the scheme ends, employers will have to pay at least 20 per cent of a worker’s salary, with the government picking up 60 per cent of the wage.

The Resolution Foundation has been among organisations warning Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to wind down furlough support for employers will endanger the jobs of more than one in four workers aged 55 to 64.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland, said of the Survation survey: “This poll paints a stark picture of the level of financial worry faced by many Scots. More than a third are concerned about paying their monthly commitments over the next year and just under a third are worried about their living costs.

“It’s clear that the pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on many families in Scotland, with many reducing their outgoings and even dipping into their savings. A significant proportion of Scots with a credit card are also struggling to pay off the minimum balance.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford warned there was a "very real danger" planned cuts to furlough, Universal Credit and business support by the autumn could push millions of people into poverty and cause widespread unemployment.

He said it was premature for the UK Government to withdraw furlough and business support in September and urged a rethink.

Andrew Bartlett CEO of Advice Direct Scotland

"The UK Government must publish an urgent impact assessment of the effect that planned Tory cuts will have on household incomes and levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality,” he said.

"There is a very real danger that, by withdrawing financial support this autumn, the Tory government will slash family incomes, cause rising unemployment and send levels of poverty soaring.

"Millions of families are already living on the breadline and struggling to get by. The £1,040 cut to Universal Credit must be reversed altogether with a complete U-turn, otherwise we will inevitably see a Tory poverty crisis this winter.

"The UK Government must also rethink its plans to end furlough and business support in September. Cutting off support prematurely will almost certainly cause an unnecessary spike in unemployment and leave businesses in the lurch in the event of a winter wave of Covid.”

The findings come as Advice Direct Scotland, which runs the national advice service advice.scot, launches a new service this week – moneyadvice.scot – to provide free information and support on a wide range of debt-related issues.

The service is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and specialist debt advisers will work with anyone in Scotland to assess their existing situation, look at their income and outgoings, and consider what to do next.

Around half a million people across Scotland are thought not to be claiming the financial support they are entitled to.

Mr Bartlett said: “For those concerned about their financial commitments, we’re very pleased to have launched moneyadvice.scot, adding free debt advice to our extensive advice service.

“Our specialist debt advisers are on hand if you have personal financial worries, are struggling with debt, or need a way of getting back on track.”

Citizens Advice Scotland financial health spokesperson Myles Fitt said: “Policymakers acted quickly at the outset of the pandemic to protect people’s incomes through policies like furlough, increasing Universal Credit and additional resources for council tax reduction and the Scottish Welfare Fund.

“However, there is a real risk that the coming next year will be very challenging for people, as furlough winds down and other payment support schemes end threatening job losses or reduced incomes, particularly if the wider economy is struggling to recover.”

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