New report exposes ‘shocking’ levels of severe poverty in Scotland
Scottish Housing News, by Citizens Advice Bureau
The most vulnerable people in Scotland are falling into destitution because the benefits system is failing to provide a safety net, according to a charity.
On the day Britain welcomes Theresa May as its new Prime Minister, evidence published by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has exposed “shocking” levels of poverty and destitution in Scotland.
Based on Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) evidence over the last four years, as well as a survey of CAB clients and special focus groups of those who are living in severe poverty, the new report called ‘Living at the Sharp End’ found a 47 per cent increase in food bank inquiries on its services. The charity said it provided advice on emergency food providers 7,400 times in 2014/15. The proportion of advice being sought in relation to rent arrears last year was a third higher (34 per cent) than it had been the year before.
CAB clients needing advice about foodbanks in Scotland are younger than the average client. While the majority are single adults without children, one third have children and 12 per cent are single parents. One in ten is homeless, and more than one third are unable to work due to ill health or disability.
According to the poll, almost two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) said they sometimes cut down on gas and electricity and 71 per cent said they sometimes cut down on food, while over half of the survey respondents (56 per cent) said that money worries have an impact on physical health, and 64 per cent said it had an impact on their mental health.
CAS head of policy & public affairs, Susan McPhee, said: “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. CAS believes that Scotland should never fall into that way of thinking, and that we should always assert that extreme poverty has no place in our society.
“The evidence we present today is a look not just at the statistics – though those are shocking enough. It is an attempt to look beyond the figures and show what it actually means to be living in severe poverty in Scotland today.
“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. 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.
“As our new Prime Minister takes office, this report makes clear that the social security system is simply not working for the most vulnerable people in our society. We make a number of recommendations in our report about how to improve this, and we want to work with both governments to make those changes happen. But it is clear that action is needed now.”
The UK government said the report failed to recognise that poverty in Scotland was at a record low.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said it spends £90 billion a year on working-age benefits to help the most vulnerable in society.
The spokeswoman added: “Work is the best route out of poverty and since 2010 there are 140,000 more people in work in Scotland.
“We’re also continuing to spend around £90bn a year on working-age benefits, supporting the most vulnerable in society.”
The Scottish Government is set to gain control of some aspects of welfare in September.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell is expected to sign off the transfer and timetable later this week.
SNP social justice spokeswoman Eilidh Whiteford said: “If there is one thing that is clear from this research it’s that austerity does not work.
“The need for food banks is a shameful indictment on our society and the Tories should be deeply ashamed that their social policies are actively driving people into desperate situations accessing basics like food and energy.
“When Theresa May gets the keys to Downing Street today she must not continue with the Tory ‘business as usual’ of drastic cuts for those who are least able to bear them – the fact that there is such a demand for food banks is damning exposure of the Tory Party’s welfare reforms.
“Instead of driving people further into poverty, Theresa May must tackle the root causes of poverty.
“The Scottish Government is currently spending £100m a year on mitigating the worst effects of welfare cuts, but this is money that could be much better spent addressing poverty.”