Scottish Welfare Fund statistics ‘a sign of human cost to housing crisis’

Graeme Brown

Housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland has lamented new figures which reveal that nearly 300,000 households have been helped by emergency relief from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

A total of 296,520 low income households have shared £164.8 million to pay for essential items such as food and heating through emergency grant funding since the fund began in 2013.

The Scottish Welfare Fund helps people during times of crisis to buy everyday essential items like food, nappies or toiletries and to cover heating costs or other living expenses. Grants are also given to people facing disaster or emergency situations, such as flooding.

Shelter Scotland said delays in benefits and ‘no place to stay’ situations are increasingly among reasons for applications.

Director Graeme Brown said: “These funds provide a vital lifeline of support for many struggling households, but today’s figures are yet another sign of the human cost to Scotland’s housing crisis.

“The fact that 174,155 applications for crisis grants were made – over 9,000 more than last year – shows the sheer scale of just how many households in Scotland continue to struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.

“Even more worrying is another huge increase – 46% – in the recorded reason for applying for a crisis grant as being ‘emergency – nowhere to stay and may resort to rough sleeping’. This has more than doubled in the last two years.

“A 27% increase in applications due to benefit payment delays is also very concerning – especially considering the flawed Universal Credit system has not been fully rolled-out.

“We hear every day how high housing costs combined with low income and stagnant wages are pushing more and more households into poverty and putting them at greater risk of homelessness.”

Statistics show that 39,410 Community Care Grants and 118,750 Crisis Grants were made by local authorities in 2017/18. Since the scheme began over half of those households receiving awards (54%) were single person households with no children, and one third of those households (33%) included children.

Cabinet secretary for social security, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said: “Any of us can face an unexpected expense. But that is harder to absorb if you are already struggling to survive. At those times it is only right that government offers support rather than a cold shoulder. And that is why the Scottish Government created the Scottish Welfare Fund, a vital lifeline for people in times of need, allowing them to cover the everyday necessities that many of us take for granted.

“I am pleased that the fund has been able to help nearly 300,000 households across the country.  But I’m also angry that the damaging and continuing UK government cuts to welfare are pushing more and more people into poverty.

“The Scottish Government is spending over £125m this year alone trying to allay the very worst effects of these harmful cuts and protect those on low incomes. Local authorities are dealing with new applications every week and we will continue to do all we can to support hard pressed families and individuals who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to make ends meet.”