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Scottish CAB Service now dealing with 'a new issue every minute'

Recession-hit Scots are now bringing one new issue to the CAB for every minute of every day, according to new figures published by Citizens Advice Scotland.

The CAS ‘Advice in Scotland’ report catalogues all the cases the Scottish CAB service dealt with in the year 2010/11. It shows a record total of 560,303 issues – that’s an increase of 15,000 (3%) since last year. This is despite the fact that funding for the service is being squeezed.

The biggest increases in CAB workload included debt and welfare cases.

  • Debt cases rose by 6%, and now make up 26% of all Scottish CAB cases.
  • Issues related to the welfare and benefit system increased by 8% overall.
  • Cases involving the controversial Employment & Support Allowance (the benefit payment for those too sick or disabled to work) were up by an astonishing 33%.

Publishing the report, CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says,

“This report shows the extent of the challenges facing people in Scotland, and also the vital role the CAB plays in helping them cope.

“Financial advice has always been a big part of what we do, but there has been a huge growth in the numbers of people struggling with debt and low income. Prices are rising all the time – for example fuel bills - and peoples’ incomes are just not keeping up with that, so many of them are turning to loan sharks and payday loans, which of course make their situation even worse. CAB waiting rooms are seeing more people than ever, and we’ve had to increase our numbers of money advisers all round the country.

“The figures in the report tell the bare facts of the story, but of course behind the statistics are real people. Our advisers see the real human face of these problems every day. People are often in tears when they come into the CAB, because they’re at the end of their tether, maybe worried about losing their home for example – and they don’t know where to turn. Many of them are people who are already vulnerable, e.g. pensioners, families on low incomes, or sick and disabled people who are having their benefits cut even further because of the welfare reforms.

“The CAB offers expert advice to anyone who needs it, on any issue, and our advice is free, impartial and confidential. But we are a charity, and so are under constant funding pressure. Our advisers are all overstretched, and our offices in some areas areas are even having to cut back, despite the increasing demand, because they are facing cuts to their funding.

“When you see the figures in this report, you do have to wonder where all these clients would go, and what would happen to them, if the CAB service didn’t exist.”

The report also shows that the Scottish CAB service regained a total of £126million for its clients last year – e.g. in re-claiming lost wages, unclaimed benefits, compensation etc. This means that clients were almost £8 better off for each £1 of funding given to the service.

In a letter sent to MPs and MSPs, accompanying the report, Susan McPhee says,

“What this report doesn’t show is that bureaux continue to do that work on diminishing resources…. It doesn’t show the huge costs saved to society by the preventative work we do. Good independent advice is a preventative service which ultimately saves money and has positive social outcomes. Debt and welfare advice is significantly cheaper than homelessness and bankruptcy, and the social outcomes for clients are far better.

“Which is why independent advice services are essential. In times of need the Scottish bureaux are a trusted source of help. Over coming years, changes to the UK welfare system will have a major impact on Scotland’s people, services, and economy and the demand for advice will increase.

“CAS estimates that total funding in the current financial year for citizens advice bureaux in Scotland will reduce by 9% and we will struggle to maintain current services. We are further concerned that the outlook for 2012/13 could reduce resources further and cause services to be cut or squeezed even further. At a time when thousands of people will need us more than ever.

“With more, we can do more. There will be plenty to do. We hope you will support your local and national Scottish CAB Service.”

For more information, interviews etc. please contact Tony Hutson on 07774 751655.