Breaking down the barriers in accessing emergency cash

By David Hilber, Project Officer, A Menu for Change 

Food bank use continues to rise and nearly one in ten people in Scotland are worried about where their next meal will come from. If you find yourself in this position, you can ask for a Crisis Grant: money given out by your local council through the Scottish Welfare Fund.

The Fund is a vital and welcome safety net in Scotland for those experiencing financial crisis. It is designed to provide access to quick, non-repayable cash for those who run out of money for food and other essentials.

We have examined how it operates across Scotland by speaking to people who have applied to the Fund, and those who work for local authorities administering it.

Encouragingly, on a council-by-council basis there are numerous examples of good practice. While they are providing this help in different ways, we need to see such practice rolled out everywhere, to ensure that everybody who finds themselves needing emergency cash is supported quickly and effectively.

We discovered that many councils were unable to adhere to the statutory guidance issued by the Scottish Government, like offering in-person applications, because they lack both the staffing and the physical space. Worryingly, people who need help may not know the Fund exists. Others may not be able to reach it because they do not have access to a phone.

Our report includes recommendations designed to remove such barriers, building on the good work being done by different councils across Scotland. That means, for example, ensuring people get their grants in cash rather than restrictive vouchers, fast-tracking decision-making, and ensuring people applying for Crisis Grants are also referred to other organisations who can offer longer-term help.

For this to be replicated by every council, the Scottish Welfare Fund needs to increase. It has been frozen since it was introduced in 2013, meaning a real-terms cut.

This Fund should be a key source of emergency support for everyone who is pulled into the position where they need rapid financial help. But there are too many hurdles in the way and, while councils must do all they can to remove them, without more funding these hurdles are likely to remain.

Read the full report here.

This opinion piece first appeared in the Herald newspaper on 20 June 2019.