More Scots seek help from crisis fund

25 Apr 18

The number of Scots seeking help to pay for food and heating from a crisis fund has increased, with one in eight applications due to a delay in the payment of benefits, according to the Scottish Government.

Statistics released yesterday showed that more than 285,000 households have benefited from the Scottish Welfare Fund since it was established five years ago, with total payments to low-income households reaching more than £155m.

The fund, worth £34.4m last year, is made up of crisis grants, which provide a safety net in the event of an emergency or disaster, and community care grants, aimed at helping people to live independently.

However, while the number of applications for community care grants has fallen, crisis grant claims rose by 8% in the final three months of last year compared to the same quarter in the previous year, with the number of awards increasing by 6%. Demand varied significantly around the country, with applications in Edinburgh rising by 42%.

Around 13% of applications for crisis grants were made because of delays in benefits payment. The number of cases due to benefit delays has grown gradually since 2016, when this was made a standalone reason for monitoring purposes.

Describing the fund, which is operated by local authorities, as a “vital lifeline”, social security minister Jeane Freeman blamed welfare cuts made by Westminster, saying it was “unacceptable” for people to find themselves in hardship through no fault of their own.

“Under UK government welfare cuts, money is being taken from the pockets of low-income families, pushing them into crisis, debt and poverty,” she said. “The Scottish Welfare Fund is one part of the £100m we spend annually to try and mitigate that and provide support to the people of Scotland at a time of need.”

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Work & Pensions said it was misleading to link the Scottish Welfare Fund to benefit delays. “The Scottish Government’s own figures show that far more grants were issued for other reasons,” he said.

“The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and advance payments and budgeting support are available for anyone who needs extra help. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government now has significant welfare powers including flexibility over universal credit payments through Scottish Choices.”

As the statistics were published, other figures suggested that food bank use in Scotland is also growing.

The Trussell Trust said it handed out record numbers of food parcels in Scotland last year, with the total of over 170,000 parcels up 17% on the previous year. Benefit delays accounted for almost a quarter of referrals, while 18% were due to benefit changes, said the trust.

The DWP said the reasons behind food bank use were complex, and that the trust’s figures were based on a “small, self-selecting” sample of universal credit claimants. The benefit worked for the vast majority who claimed it, the department said.

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