Emergency grant applications soar as cost of living crisis bites

A cost of living crisis has seen applications for emergency welfare funds rise by 11 per cent in the last year, with almost 200,000 people in desperate need of money for food and heating, according to new figures published today.

A shock rise in applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund is a "sad indictment" of UK government austerity policies, according to Social Security Secretary Shirely-Anne Somerville.
A shock rise in applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund is a "sad indictment" of UK government austerity policies, according to Social Security Secretary Shirely-Anne Somerville.
A shock rise in applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund is a "sad indictment" of UK government austerity policies, according to Social Security Secretary Shirely-Anne Somerville.

New statistics from the Scottish Welfare Fund show that applications for crisis grants rose to 193,230 in 20218/19 - though only 65 per cent were successful, amounting to a pay out of £10.4 million, with the average grant standing at £83.

The shock rise was branded a "sad indictment" of the UK government's austerity policies by the Scottish Government, but Scottish Labour said that more families could have been helped if the Scottish Government had invested more in the Fund's budget.

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The Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) awards community care grants – which help people to live independently – and crisis grants, which provide a safety net in a disaster or emergency. Last year it paid out £24.8m in community care grants, as well as £10.4m in crisis grants, breaching its annual budget of £33m by £2.2m.

Citizens Advice Scotland today called for a review of the SWF to ensure it had the appropriate budget, and said the figures showed more was needed to boost people's incomes and tackle the cost of living - including ensuring people were receiving benefits which they were due.

The figures - which come only a day after a report revealed one in five people in Scotland are living in poverty - were announced as the Scottish Government revealed it had created 100 new jobs in Glasgow to deliver the seven new devolved social security benefits by the end of this year.

CAS social justice spokesperson Mhoraig Green said: “It should frankly shock people across the country that there was almost 200,000 applications for a crisis grant in Scotland in the last year.

“Today’s figures show that more needs to be done to tackle the causes of income crisis, particularly reducing the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments and high deductions to repay debt that leave people without enough to live on.

“More should also be done to increase awareness of the support available from the Scottish Welfare Fund, as well as reviewing whether the levels of funding are adequate to meet demand. People who are struggling should know that their local Citizens Advice Bureau can check to ensure they are getting all the benefits they are entitled to, and if they could be paying lower bills for utilities and council tax.”

The statistics showed that 45 per cent of those applying for a crisis grant cited "benefit/income spent" as a reason for needing help while councils reported a delay in the payment of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) as being behind the rise.

Crisis grants were most commonly given to help people with "food, essential heating expenses and other living expenses", while 5,415 grants were awarded to help people buy nappies, toiletries and household products, a 74 per cent increase on the previous year.

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The local authorities with the highest number of applications were Glasgow City, Fife and North Lanarkshire.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: "The fact that so many households in Scotland are in need of emergency financial help is appalling and a sad indictment of the UK Government's record on austerity and welfare changes.

"As their welfare cuts continue to cause harm and damage, we continue to do our best to mitigate against them and provide financial support to low income families and carers through new social security benefits."

A total of 70,425 applications were also made for community care grants last year, over half - 58 per cent - of which were approved.

However Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, said the SWF was being "starved of cash" by the Scottish Government, as its budget had stood still at £33 million - a real-terms cut of £3.5 million once inflation is factored in.

He said: "Despite increasing demand for its services, the Scottish Welfare Fund and local councils are being starved of cash by the SNP. With families using food banks and struggling to get by, this fund has never been more needed.

"Without additional funding from the SNP government this fund is in jeopardy, and it will be the most vulnerable people in our communities who will continue to lose out."

He was backed by Dr Mary Anne MacLeod, research and policy officer at A Menu for Change, who said councils were being forced to "top up" the SWF because of a "real-terms cut".

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She added: "More and more Scots are being pulled into crisis and a greater number of people have been forced to turn to this lifeline than ever before. It isn’t right that as the number of Scots needing crisis payments for food continues to soar, the fund for emergency payments hasn’t gone up in six years.

"The Scottish Welfare Fund provides a safety net for those who can’t put food on the table and it has to be strengthened to reflect the growing demand.

“Our research shows that for the system to be more effective, councils need more funding in order to help reach everyone who needs emergency help, as well as to refer people to longer-term support which could help prevent them reaching crisis point again.

“Funding provisions for local authorities must now reflect the growing number of people who are being pulled into crisis and need this emergency cash to stay afloat.”

According to the Scottish Government, the SWF crisis grant payments were a rise of 14 per cent on 2017/18, and were "part of a package" of more than £125m to mitigate the impact of UK government cuts to benefits.

Since its launch in April 2013, the SWF has paid out more than £200 million to support over 336,000 households, with a third of recipients being families with children.

Ms Somerville added: “We would much rather these resources were invested in anti-poverty measures than protecting our people from another government’s cuts – a positon the UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty recently described as outrageous and unsustainable."

She also welcomed the new jobs for Glasgow to help Social Security Scotland deliver seven newly devolved benefits. The number of employees for the new government agency is expected to be in excess of 1,900 once fully operational, with a head office also based in Dundee.

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She said: "Social Security Scotland is founded on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect and our people are absolutely key in delivering that. As we build on our presence in Glasgow, our second major site, we are looking for people with positive attitudes who share our ambition to deliver a public service that people in Scotland can be proud of."