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CAS report exposes "frightening" reality of cost of living crisis

A new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) details the breadth and depth of the cost of living crisis, with soaring energy bills driving “frightening” demand for advice around food insecurity.

The charity is publishing a quarterly cost of living analysis looking at advice demand. It found that in more than 1 in 10  utilities cases, the client also required advice around food insecurity such as a food bank referral.

Comparing the first quarter of this year to the previous financial year, the analysis also shows soaring views of online advice in energy areas such as:

At the same time, online page views relating to cost of living issues has increased massively, with “Get help with bills” increasing 122%. The page “Struggling with living costs” has seen a 67% increase, meanwhile views of “Food banks and other crisis help” is up 33%.

Across the CAB network itself, last year 26% of all utilities advice related to cost of living or income crisis measures. In the first quarter of this year that had grown to 35%.

Last year 36% of finance and charitable support advice was food bank referrals or shopping vouchers. In quarter one of this year this had grown to 45%.

The report also analyses demand across demographics, and finds that council rented tenants and those out of work, or unable to work, are seeking advice related to the cost of living at higher levels than other groups.

The charity is warning that this increased demand is before the impact of  a “toxic cocktail” this winter of the energy price cap going up, higher inflation, and increased interest rates.

Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Derek Mitchell said:

“The Citizens Advice network gives a wraparound service when people come to us for advice because people have complex problems and need help with multiple issues. Our data tracks the patterns and connections between the advice we are giving out and the problems society faces. What we are seeing is frankly frightening.

“More than one in every ten people seeking help with an energy issue also requires help with food insecurity. Let’s be absolutely clear what that means – some people face the prospect of freezing or starving this winter.

“This crisis is affecting everyone, but some people are especially at risk – our data shows higher demand for advice from council tenants, those out of work and those unable to work. That to me suggests broad support alone will not be enough – there needs to be targeted help for the vulnerable.

“We are seeing these issues before a toxic cocktail this winter of soaring energy bills, growing inflation and higher interest rates. People are hanging on by their finger tips and it’s the summer – how are they expected to cope when the temperature drops and bills rise?

“CABs are here for people during this crisis. We helped 171,000 people last year and a further 2.5 million checked our online advice. We are for everyone regardless of background or circumstance and it’s so important people understand we are here for them with free, confidential and impartial advice. We don’t judge, we just help.

“That help though, needs to be back up by policymakers delivering the kind or urgent and significant policy interventions to help people. Make no mistake, this is a challenge on a scale of the 2008 financial crisis or the 2020 pandemic, and will require solutions to match that.”