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The Perfect Storm: Living on Universal Credit during the Cost of Living Crisis

The last few years have been extraordinarily tough. The pandemic left 1.8 million people in Scotland financially worse off, and even before the most recent increase in the energy price cap one in three people found their bills unaffordable. Now people are faced with a perfect storm of soaring prices and flat or falling incomes, which risks sweeping tens of thousands of people across the country into poverty, problem debt, and destitution.

Those relying on the social security system are particularly vulnerable to poverty. Just over 447,500 people across Scotland are on UC – equivalent to more than one in ten working age adults in Scotland and almost double the number before the pandemic. Getting social security right is vital to help these people weather the storm.

Recent data from across the Citizens Advice network in Scotland shows the hardship people are facing every day:

  • Advice need for food banks has grown by almost a third (31%) since September 2021.
  • Advice need for other charitable support, including fuel bank referrals, saw a sharp increase of 23% between September 2021 and December 2021, likely reflecting the additional pressure of winter heating bills.
  • Advice on UC sanctions has grown by 53% over 2021-22.
  • Advice on UC Budgeting Advances has risen by 25% over 2021-22.
  • Advice on UC Overpayments nearly doubled from the average across 2020/21 to Q4 of 2021/22.

Behind each of these statistics are real people. In this report we highlight four real Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) client stories which show the incredible difficulties many people on UC are facing daily. Their names have been changed to protect their anonymity, but their stories demonstrate the reality of the cost of living crisis and the need for further support.

David Scott
Publication date
July 2022
Publication type