Citizens Advice says Scottish Welfare Fund “clearly not enough” to tackle poverty

27/07/2016
Nathanael Williams

Scottish Welfare Fund failing to tackle the roots of poverty

CITIZENS ADVICE SCOTLAND (CAS), has urged the Scottish Government to do more to help families that are falling into poverty across Scotland.

The service that provides confidential, free advice on consumer rights and legal or financial difficulties, said that although it recognises the importance of the Scottish Welfare Fund, it hadn't stopped the rise in the use of food banks or people seeking advice. 

The comments came after the Scottish Government released a statement that over 200,000 households had received emergency grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund in the last three years.

The Scottish Welfare Fund is a national scheme delivered through local councils and provides a safety net for those on low incomes. It was formed to replace parts of the Social Fund, abolished by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2013.

Susan McPhee, head of policy and public affairs at CAS, said: "The Welfare Fund is a vital form of support for many CAB clients, so we of course welcome the fact that people are getting that support. 

"However, Scottish CAB evidence makes clear that, even with this support, too many people are experiencing a gaps in income which drive them into poverty."

Since the scheme was set up in April 2013, £97.9m of grants have been given to almost 204,000 households in Scotland.

McPhee continued: "Last year, the number of Scots who came to their CAB seeking advice on how to get crisis support increased by 134 per cent on the previous year. In addition, we gave advice relating to foodbanks on over 7,400 occasions last year.
 
"These figures show that there’s plenty to be done in developing a social security system that is fair, equal and responsive.

"While the Scottish Welfare Fund grants are a key part in helping people through difficult periods, they are clearly not enough to prevent large numbers of people falling into poverty."

The CAS has 61 branches across the country, with their consumer helpline forming Scotland’s largest independent advice network and according to their own estimates they help 300,000 people with cases each year.

"No-one in Scotland should be living in poverty, and it is crucial that we are able to give support to those most in need, when they need it." Angela Constance

The exact figures released for the Scottish Welfare Fund, showed that since the scheme was set up in April 2013, £97.9m of grants have been given to almost 204,000 households in Scotland.

Around one third of grants were given to households with children, while around 54 per cent of those grants were given to single person households with no children.

It is aimed at helping households during times of crisis, and can help to buy everyday essential items like food, children's goods or toiletries and to cover heating costs or other living expenses. Grants are also given to people facing disaster or emergency situations, such as flooding.

People can also be given support, to live in their own homes where there’s a risk of homelessness or going into care or for families facing exceptional pressures where funding can cover larger essential one-off items like washing machines or cookers.

Around one-third of grants were given to households with children, while around 54 per cent of those grants were given to single person households with no children.

In an online statement, Angela Constance, social security secretary, said: "No-one in Scotland should be living in poverty, and it is crucial that we are able to give support to those most in need, when they need it.

"This can be especially important in times of desperation or emergency, or when people have been affected by delays in benefits.

"The Scottish Welfare Fund provides a vital lifeline to families during times of crisis, and helps people in desperate situations where they cannot afford to buy everyday items, such as food or nappies, that many of us take for granted.

"It is important this money gets to those who need it most, and that is why, from April this year, we have made changes to the way funding is allocated to local authorities, to ensure it reaches those people who most need it."

"However, Scottish CAB evidence makes clear that, even with this support, too many people are experiencing a gaps in income which drive them into poverty." Susan McPhee

CAS, on 13 July, released its own report called 'Living at the Sharp End', based on evidence collected over the last four years, as well as a survey of CAS clients, focus groups, and interviews with those living in severe poverty. 

It found that the social security system is failing to provide the essential safety net that is meant to stop people falling into poverty.

Additionally, along with the Independent Working Group on Food Poverty in Scotland, it highlighted the need to introduce a robust way of measuring food insecurity and poverty in Scotland, given that there are no official statistics on the scale of the issue.

Picture courtesy of Shelter Scotland

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