Hard-up Scots received more than £4.8 million in emergency payments to help them with costs such as food and heating in the final three months of last year.
The amount given out in crisis grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund in the month of December alone was £1,702,374 – the second highest total recorded since the scheme was set up eight years ago.
The only time this has been higher was at the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in April 2020, when payments amounted to £2,528,902.
In the period October to December payments totalled £4,809,513 – a rise of 56% on the same three months in 2019.
Scottish Government figures showed the bulk of this cash – £2,931,225 – went to help struggling families and individuals pay for food, with this up 66% on the same period in 2019.
With the payments administered by local councils, authorities received 63,890 applications for crisis grants in the final three months of 2020 – 25% more than the same period in 2019.
The overall spending on the grants was 56% higher than it was in October to December 2019. Meanwhile 72% of those seeking emergency cash in the final quarter of 2020 had previously applied for such help – with this being the highest number of repeat applications since the fund was set up.
The higher number of repeat applications is “likely to be due to the impacts of Covid-19 as many individuals continue to experience financial hardship because of the pandemic”, the Scottish Government report said.
In total, since the fund was established in April 2013 until the end of 2020, it has helped some 414,930 households across Scotland, with payments totalling £269.4 million over the period.
While the Scottish Welfare Fund had just under £59.5 million to spend across 2020-21, by the end of December, some three quarters of the way through the financial year, just 53% of the available cash had been allocated.
In the Western Isles, 14% of the available budget had been used, while in the Highland council area less than a quarter (24%) of the cash had been spent.
In Clackmannanshire more than three quarters (78%) of the available money was paid out by the end of December, with the report noting this area was one of a handful that were on track to fully use the funds.
It stated that “Edinburgh, West Lothian (both 75% spent), Dumfries and Galloway (77% spent) and Clackmannanshire (78% spent) may be on track to spend all of their allocated funds during 2020-21 at current rates of expenditure”.
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