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Social Justice

Thousands of Scots go hungry as welfare fund applications soar

Campaigners found that local authorities aren’t advertising crisis grants in case they can’t cope with demand

The number of people in Scotland reaching cash crisis point and applying for emergency money has soared by 16 per cent in a year, anti-poverty campaigners have revealed.

And that has triggered calls for immediate action from the Scottish Government to step in to help thousands who are forced to go without food.

The Scottish Welfare Fund, designed to be a safety net for people on low incomes who find themselves in additional financial difficulty, is distributed through councils – but its funding has been frozen by Holyrood since 2013, amounting to a real-terms cut.

It’s the only scheme of its kind in the UK, but campaigners A Menu for Change found that many local authorities avoid advertising it – because they worry demand will totally outstrip supply.

The fund received 51,715 applications in the last quarter, while polls show that only a third of people in Scotland say they would know where to go for help if they were left without money for food. As many as 600,000 emergency food parcels were given out in the past year and a half.

Alexander Glasgow, from Caithness, said a crisis grant proved to be a “lifeline” for him when he was left without any other income.

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“I have been out of paid work and on Employment Support Allowance for over 15 years, after a psychiatric crisis when I was a student halted what could have been a successful career in radiography,” he said.

“An error with my benefit payments meant I had no money coming in at all for a month. The grant allowed me to buy essentials and heat my home.”

A Menu for Change – a partnership between Oxfam Scotland, Nourish Scotland, the Poverty Alliance and Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland – have written to Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, demanding he removes the freeze on the fund in next week’s Scottish Government budget so that local authorities can support those struggling to get by.

Margaret MacLachlan, project manager for the partnership, said that people in Scotland are finding themselves more and more financial stretched as a result of “a weakened social security system, low pay and insecure work”.

She said: “The best way of preventing this is to ensure that people have secure and reliable incomes from both work and basic social security entitlement.

“However, where people don’t have this security, the Scottish Welfare Fund provides a vital additional safety net for those who are in need of emergency cash support in order to pay for food.

“Yet the fund has been cut in real terms since 2013; putting pressure on local authorities delivering it at a time when the numbers of people being swept into crisis has increased.

Next week’s budget must therefore include an increase in funding for this vital lifeline for people who are struggling to stay afloat.”

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