There has been an “alarming” surge in the number of emergency crisis grants being handed out during the coronavirus crisis, poverty charities have warned.
More than £2.4 million was given in crisis grants to help people in poverty from the Scottish Welfare Fund last month, a 154% increase on the previous year.
The fund received 33,106 applications for grants, its highest number and an 88% rise on April 2019, with charities urging the Scottish Government to ensure there is adequate investment in the emergency fund.
A Menu for Change, a partnership between Oxfam Scotland, Nourish Scotland, the Poverty Alliance and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, has also issued a plea to both the UK and Scottish Governments about welfare policies to help those on low incomes.
It is calling for the UK Government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit, increase child benefit and scrap the two-child limit.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has been asked to introduce the new Scottish Child Payment more quickly and, in the meantime, “use existing mechanisms to provide an immediate financial boost” for those facing destitution.
Peter Kelly, from A Menu for Change, said: “These figures paint an alarming picture, with more individuals and families being pulled into poverty and large numbers being pushed to crisis point – this simply can’t be right.
“While the Scottish Welfare Fund throws a vital financial lifeline to those reaching crisis point, this rapid and significant increase in crisis grants exposes the gaps in the social safety net and inadequate incomes from paid employment – and we know that food bank use is on the rise, too.”
He added: “The measures put in place to protect incomes during the Covid-19 crisis, including the UK job retention scheme and the Scottish Government’s decision to increase the Scottish Welfare Fund, are hugely important.
“It’s critical that councils have the resources they need in order to reach everybody in crisis and process applications swiftly.
“Since March, we have seen just how compassionate our society can be with thousands of people volunteering, donating and working to ensure that everyone has enough food.
“As we begin to move into a new phase of the response to Covid-19, we must do more to prevent people from reaching crisis by putting more money into their pockets.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it had more than doubled the Scottish Welfare Fund from £35.5 million to £80.5 million, will be paying carers in receipt of Carers Allowance an additional supplement this year and have committed a further £5 million of funding for Discretionary Housing Payments.
She said the Government was working on introducing the new Scottish Child Payment as quickly as possible to be part of a range of benefits and have also provided £100,000 to Citizens Advice Scotland.
She added: “It is now vital that the UK Government match our efforts given that income replacement benefits are still reserved to Westminster.
“They need to reverse their welfare cuts which are now hitting harder than ever. This includes the benefit cap, bedroom tax, and two child limit, for which we have continually called for change, as well as make fundamental alterations to Universal Credit to ensure it works for people.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting people through these unprecedented times, including injecting over £6.5 billion into our safety net welfare system.
“With Universal Credit, no one has to wait five weeks for their money as urgent advances are available. More than one million people have requested and received one since 16 March.
“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments, and create entirely new benefits altogether.”
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