Extreme poverty is becoming the norm in Scotland, report claims
7.30am July 12th 2016 Stephen Naysmith
The social security system is no longer providing an effective safety net for Scots in poverty and in many cases is actually causing people to become destitute, according to a report from Citizen’s Advice Scotland (CAS).
Huge numbers of inquiries at Citizen’s Advice Bureaux from people in need of foodbanks and hardship payments prove the system is failing, the charity said, and it called on both the UK and the Scottish Government to act.
CAS head of policy and public affairs Susan McPhee said: “When reports like this have been published in the past, the standard reaction of the UK government has been to say that there is a support network in place that prevents people falling into destitution. Our evidence today shows beyond dispute that this is simply not the case.
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“If it were, there would be no need for foodbanks at all, yet Scottish CABs had to give foodbank advice over 7,000 times last year, and our report shows that too many Scottish families are struggling in severe poverty.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report, and said poverty in Scotland was now the lowest on record, however the Scottish Government said it shared CAS’s concerns.
The report, Living at the Sharp End reveals that bureaux advised more than 7,400 people to seek help from food banks last year, an increase of 47 per cent on 2013-14, while inquiries about crisis support grants had more than doubled in two years. However many clients were unaware of the help available from the Scottish Welfare Fund which administers the grants.
Almost two thirds of clients surveyed said periods without income had forced them to cut down on gas and electricity use (63 per cent), and 71 per cent said they went without food. More than half (56 per cent) said money worries were affecting their physical health and 64 per cent said such worries affected their mental health.
The report says: “[We] too often see clients who arrive hungry, having not eaten in a number of days, with no money for gas, electricity or other essentials. Bureaux are also increasingly seeing clients who have exhausted all forms of government-provided support and whose only option is to go to a food bank.”
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The authors say changes in personal circumstances, such as a loss of work or working hours, health problems and debt can cause the problem but add “gaps in income for CAB clients are most often caused by the benefits system.”
Problems such as the DWP losing mail, delays in the benefits system and sanctions imposed on people’s benefits are all causing people to be left without income, the report says, with young people disproportionately affected.
Ms McPhee added: “There have been many different studies over the last few years showing that poverty is growing in Scotland. Our concern is that, as a society, we are in danger of becoming used to these reports and that we are beginning to accept it as the norm.”
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Extreme poverty has no place in our society, she added: “Scotland should never fall into that way of thinking.”
The report calls for an end to the freeze which prevents benefits rising in line with inflation, and abolition of the lower rate of benefits paid to under 25 year olds.
It says a seven day ‘waiting period’ for those claiming the new Universal Credit should also be abolished and there should be a full scale review of the controversial sanctions regime which critics say can be arbitrary and unfair. The Scottish Government should do more to raise awareness of the Scottish Welfare fund, the report says.
A spokeswoman for the DWP said £90bn was spent a year on working age benefits and only one in 25 job seekers and one in 100 people claiming the disability benefit Employment Support Allowance were sanctioned each month last year.
She added: “This report fails to take into account latest statistics that show poverty in Scotland is now the lowest on record.
“Since 2010 there are 140,000 more people in work in Scotland.”
But a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We share CAS’ concerns about poverty in Scotland. “We are being forced to spend £100 million a year tackling the effects of UK Government welfare cuts when this money should be spent lifting people out of poverty.”