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Charities call for increase to Scottish Welfare Fund to protect people in poverty from coronavirus impact

A coalition of anti-poverty charities is today calling for a significant boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund.

The Poverty Alliance, Oxfam Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland have issued a joint calling saying boosting the Fund will help protect people in poverty who are likely to face additional cash pressures as a result of coronavirus.

The charities are calling for: 

  • An immediate and substantial further increase to the Scottish Welfare Fund
  • A commitment to review the operation of Scottish Welfare Fund to ensure it delivers support to people as quickly and effectively as possible
  • Further support to local authorities to ensure they can administer the demand under increasing pressure

The Fund was established in 2013 and was recently increased by £3m by the Scottish Government in the 2020-21 draft budget after being frozen since its introduction.

This followed pressure from campaigners to increase the Fund amid already rising levels of poverty and food bank use in Scotland. 

However, the charities fear there will now be additional, unprecedented levels of demand in the coming months and that the Scottish Government must ensure that anyone in Scotland at crisis point is able to access this vital lifeline.

They say the Scottish Government should act quickly by substantially increasing the Fund and by committing to further increases in future as the impact of the coronavirus unfolds.

CAS says its most recent figures show demand on the fund was increasing, with a 12 per cent increase in advice given on accessing crisis grants within the fund based on the last quarter.

Previous research for the charity also shows that 34 per cent of people couldn’t cover an unexpected but necessary expense of £500.

The Scottish Welfare Fund is administered by Local Authorities and awards Crisis Grants to people on an emergency basis – such as running out of money or if their health is at risk.

These Grants are a vital form of support at times of crisis which enable people to buy exactly what is needed, whether that is food, toiletries or paying an energy bill.

CAS Social Justice spokesperson Mhoraig Green said: “The Scottish Government should consider a further funding boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund to protect people facing disruptions to their income as a result of coronavirus.

“The Citizens Advice network in Scotland helps hundreds of thousands of people each year.  Our data suggests people are facing a huge crisis of income, often going without paying essential bills or buying food as a result of a lack of cash.

“This is all before the possible economic effects of coronavirus take place, with people facing disruptions in their income by not being able to work.

“An additional funding boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund will allow more people to apply in the first place and possibly allow the eligibility criteria to be relaxed on a case by case basis to allow more people to help.

“For our part, the Citizens Advice network in Scotland will continue to promote and signpost people to the fund.”

Director of Poverty Alliance, Peter Kelly said: “The action we take to protect our most vulnerable in the coming weeks will be a test of our shared values of justice and compassion.

“Before the coronavirus hit, rising numbers of people struggling to make ends meet were already leading to unprecedented demand on the Scottish Welfare Fund – which provides immediate support to people facing income crisis.

“In the coming months we expect to see thousands of people plunged into destitution unless we significantly increase this vital safety net. The Scottish Government should immediately top-up the Scottish Welfare Fund and commit to continually review funding to meet demand.”

John Dickie,  Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland said: “Families who are already struggling to get by are now facing a massive increase in the risk of being left without enough money to feed their children and pay essential bills.

"The Scottish Welfare Fund is a hugely important statutory source of cash support that provides a lifeline to households across the country.

"Unprecedented times now require unprecedented additional investment as part of a package of support for struggling families.”

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