Number of Scots forced to apply for Crisis Grants to buy food continues to rise

Campaigners are calling for an increase to the Scottish Welfare Fund budget after new statistics released today show a rising numbers of Scots are accessing emergency cash to help pay for food.

50,980 applications for Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grants were made between April and June 2019, representing a 12 percent increase compared to the same quarter last year.

Most of the Crisis Grant expenditure related to applicants needing to buy food – 60 percent of all payments – which is a 29 percent increase from the same quarter last year.

There were 32,995 Crisis Grants awarded, an 11 percent increase on last year.

Half of the reasons for applications in the last quarter were because of benefit or income emergencies.

Despite increasing numbers of Crisis Grants being awarded, the budget to administer the Scottish Welfare Fund has been the same since it was first introduced in 2013, representing a real-terms cut.

A Menu for Change – a partnership between Oxfam, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group and Nourish – says that the Scottish Welfare Fund budget must be increased to ensure that people at crisis point are able to get the emergency help they need.

However, it says the key drivers of food insecurity – inadequate and insecure wages and social security – need resolved to prevent people being forced to turn to the Scottish Welfare Fund for emergency cash.

Without secure and reliable incomes, the Scottish Welfare Fund is a final lifeline for people who do not have enough money to buy food.

A recent report from A Menu for Change based on interviews with Scots experiencing food insecurity found that while half of those interviewed over time had accessed a Crisis Grant Fund, many had not heard of it.

Research by A Menu for Change published earlier this year showed that some councils in Scotland were avoiding publicising the Scottish Welfare Fund due to fears they would be unable to meet the subsequent demand.

The fund consists of a programme and administration budget. Scottish ministers have previously defended the SWF remaining frozen because the programme budget is underspent.

However, in 2018-19, for the first time, 100 percent of the available budget was spent by local authorities, with thirteen local authorities spending more than the available budget.

Margaret MacLachlan, A Menu for Change Project Manager, said:

“It is unacceptable in modern day Scotland that increasing numbers of people are being forced to rely on emergency cash to put food on the table because wages and social security are inadequate.

“Low wages, zero hours contracts and long delays in accessing key benefits are preventing people from building resilience to sudden changes in income, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

“The Scottish Welfare Fund is a vital lifeline, ensuring in many cases, those who have run out of money do not run out of food. For it to be at its most effective, it needs to be enough to reach everyone who needs it.

“However, the Fund is not in itself a long-term solution to tackling the increasing levels of food insecurity in Scotland. The Scottish and UK governments must do more to prevent people in Scotland being dragged to crisis point. Paying a Real Living Wage, banning exploitative zero-hours contracts and scrapping the five-week delay for Universal Credit are needed to ensure people who are struggling to keep their head above water are not dragged under by shocks to their income.

“No one in Scotland should be worrying about whether they will have enough food to eat. Strengthening the Scottish Welfare Fund is essential, but long-term solutions must be put in place to ensure the numbers of people seeking emergency cash in Scotland to buy food are going down, not up.”

Contact: Alice McNaugher, on 07880785159 / amcnaugher1@Oxfam.org.uk

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