Anti-poverty campaigners welcome Scottish Government investment in vital welfare lifeline

21 October 2012

Anti-poverty campaigners today welcomed the announcement by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the Scottish Government is to invest an additional £9.2 million in a new Scottish Welfare Fund to replace UK community care grants and crisis loans from April 2013.

The investment comes on top of the £23.8 million that looks set to be transferred by the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - a sum previously described by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Poverty Alliance, who have been pressing Scottish Ministers to boost the fund, as "woefully inadequate". Elsewhere in the UK, resources are being transferred to local authorities with no ring fencing and without any national framework setting out who should benefit or in what circumstances.

Commenting on Ms Sturgeon's announcement, John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland, said;

"Constant UK welfare cuts are really hurting our poorest families so this investment by Scottish Ministers is hugely welcome. It reverses the shocking reductions that have been made by the DWP to the social fund in recent years and significantly boosts a vital lifeline for some of Scotland's most hard pressed households."

Director of the Poverty Alliance, Peter Kelly, added

"The fact that food banks in Scotland are reportedly feeding 6,000 Scots every year shows that the need for emergency help is very real for many families. This new commitment by the Scottish Government is therefore very welcome. Hundreds of organisations across Scotland have been pressing the Scottish Government to do more to mitigate the impact of welfare reform. This investment will go some way to help achieve that aim."

ENDS

For further comment contact:

John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland, on 07795 340 618
Peter Kelly, Director, Poverty Alliance, on 07766 606454

Notes to Editors

1. CPAG in Scotland, Poverty Alliance and others have been calling on Scottish Ministers to use the Scottish Budget to invest in replacement Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants to help mitigate the worst of the UK cuts.

In the latest full year for which figures are available (2010/11) over £29m was provided in DWP crisis loans and community care grants to Scotland's poorest and most vulnerable citizens, more if spending on items which have largely been abolished since 2011 is included. Yet only £23.8million is set to be transferred to the Scottish Government to replace the schemes following their abolition as a UK benefit under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act.

2. The funds are a vital lifeline when families face crisis, exceptional pressures or are at risk of being unable to sustain their own homes. Whilst the current UK funds are far from perfect they are a recognition that that it is near impossible to budget for emergency expenses, such as paying to get fuel reconnected or to replace a broken cooker, if you are living on a very low income.

3. Recent case studies of the kind of situation where families have benefited from community care grants include:

Case study 1

A kinship carer (grandmother) looking after three grandchildren in a voluntary arrangement with no financial support from the local authority as a result of their parents' alcohol addiction. She has health problems and one of the children has behavioural difficulties. The family's cooker was beyond repair and all the children required new bedding. She is managing to provide adequate care for her three grandchildren, but experiencing many difficulties in terms of meeting the children's practical and emotional needs and the lack of basic household items was placing an additional strain on the family and making it very difficult for her to provide a healthy and affordable diet for the children. She was reliant on take-away food, which was neither affordable nor healthy, or on other family members. A community care grant, awarded on the basis of easing exceptional pressure on the family, enabled her to buy a new cooker and new bedding for the children.

There is little doubt that living with their grandmother is the best place for these three children to be, and yet this arrangement could easily be undermined by inadequate living conditions without the vital support provided by the discretionary social fund.

Case study 2

A couple with one daughter, aged 12. Both parents have chronic health problems and their daughter has struggled at school (in terms of attendance and performance). There are significant concerns about the parents' ability to care adequately for their daughter. There is a supervision requirement in place which means that the daughter is 'looked after' by the local authority, albeit while living at home with her parents. Both the mother and daughter have urinary incontinence and as a result they have additional laundry. The family's washing machine was broken and beyond repair. There is no local laundrette. The family were finding it increasingly difficult to cope without a washing machine, particularly in light of the additional washing created by incontinence problems. The parents find it very challenging to get their daughter to school, and the frequent lack of clean clothes and proper uniform was exacerbating this problem. Meanwhile the daughter's school was constantly complaining about her not having the correct uniform on or PE kit with her. The problem of how to wash bedding and maintain hygienic conditions within the home, was threatening to overwhelm the parents. A community care grant, awarded on the basis of easing exceptional pressure of the family, enabled them to buy a new washing machine.

These cases illustrate how needs arise through living in persistent poverty - benefit levels are insufficient to cover the costs of replacing household items. Such needs are often foreseeable and common, not arising from any identifiable crisis. Families without money upfront to pay for necessary items like a cooker, washing machine or furniture often pay inflated weekly rates for hire purchase or credit.

 

John Dickie
Head of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
Tel: 0141 552 3656
Fax:0141 552 440
jdickie@cpagscotland.org.uk