Rising financial emergency in Scottish households as Universal Credit continues roll-out

Ben Wray

Emergency appeals for financial aid spike by 69 per cent

HOUSING campaigners have warned of a sharp spike in the number of applications for emergency aid to avert homelessness, as the UK Government’s Universal Credit scheme continues its roll-out in Glasgow.

According to Scottish Government figures published today, between April and June 2018 45,290 applications for crisis grants were made to local councils, 7 per cent more than in the same period in 2017.

Councils also received a 69 per cent increase in applications for the grants on the explicit basis that the applicants were about to become homeless.

The news comes the day before the controversial Universal Credit reaches more Glasgow communities in Springburn and Partick.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said: “These funds provide a vital lifeline of support for many struggling households, but today’s figures are yet another sign of the human cost of Scotland’s housing crisis.

“The fact that applications for crisis grants continue to rise – 7 per cent up on the same time last year – shows the sheer scale of just how many households in Scotland continue to struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.

Scottish Government chart 1 – Applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund – Scotland – Monthly

“Even more worrying is another huge increase – 69 per cent – in the recorded reason for applying for a crisis grant as being ‘emergency – nowhere to stay and may resort to rough sleeping’.”

The impacts of the Tory austerity regime in Scotland have been mounting for years. In August it was revealed that almost 300,000 Scots housholds had been forced to request emergency aid in the previous five years.

In the same period covered by the latest figures, the Scottish Welfare Fund, set up to administer emergency and other grants, spent £8.2m, 2 per cent more than between April and June 2017.

Now these costs could be added to by Universal Credit. The flagship Conservative policy, which replaces a range of legacy benefits, has been slammed by the public in cities where it has so far been introduced, for long delays in payments which have driven many to use emergency funds, access private credit or forced into homelessness. 

Scottish Government chart 2 – Reasons for Application – Crisis Grants – Quarterly

The current DWP Secretary Esther McVey has admitted that Universal Credit recipients “could be worse off” after implementation. It is now being rolled out across Scotland’s largest cities, starting with Glasgow.

The Scottish Greens called on the Scottish Government to do more still to help people struggling under the weight of UK Government welfare changes.

Alison Johnstone MSP, Social Security spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “The growing need for crisis funds in our wealthy society is simply appalling. It shows the human impact of the UK Government’s cruel austerity agenda, with cuts to benefits harming people’s physical and mental health. The huge increase in people applying for a grant because they are at risk of homelessness is especially concerning.

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“I fully expect these figures to be met with cold indifference from the Conservatives but I hope they prompt SNP Ministers to be bolder in their approach to preventing poverty. They must look again at uprating devolved benefits in line with inflation and topping up Child Benefit, and they must increase investment in genuinely affordable housing.”

In his Budget yesterday, Chancellor Philip Hammond claimed that austerity was “coming to an end”, but campaigners say the £1.7 billion in new funds for Universal Credit and £1 billion extra to support implementation does not go nearly far enough. 

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