Almost a third of a million homes in Scotland have received help from a scheme that helps hard-up families struggling to pay for heating and eating.
Since it was set up in April 2013, the Scottish Welfare Fund has paid out a total of £190.6 million to 326,085 households.
The latest figures showed in the last three months of 2018 it paid out just under £2.5 million in crisis grants – with 29,060 payments made over the period to help needy families with basic living expenses.
Grants for food amounted to more than £1.4 million – an increase of 15% from the period October to December 2017 – while there was a 25% increase in the value of grants for heating to more than £520,000.
Payments totalling more than £17,000 were made to those who could not otherwise afford to buy nappies, toiletries and household products – a rise of 134% over the year.
Graeme Brown, director of the housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, said: “It is clear from today’s statistics that increasing numbers of households across Scotland continue to struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their head.”
He added: “These grants are a vital lifeline for many facing job insecurity, zero-hour contracts, harsh welfare reforms, low pay and the high cost of housing.”
The grants, which are distributed by local councils, are also used to help people facing disaster or emergency situations such as flooding and can assist families facing exceptional pressure with one-off costs for items including beds, washing machines or cookers.
These community care grants helped 10,725 households in the last three months of last year, with payments totalling some £6.5 million.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Sommerville said: “The fact that so many households in Scotland are in need of emergency financial help is appalling and a sad indictment of the UK Government’s record on austerity and welfare changes.
“As their welfare cuts continue to cause harm and damage, we continue to do our best to mitigate against them and provide financial support to low-income families and carers through new social security benefits.
“We are using our limited powers to ensure Universal Credit in Scotland gives people some control over their payments and our financial health check is providing personalised advice on money matters to help those on low incomes maximise their finances.
“That is why we will again provide local authorities with £38 million in 2019-20 to support hard-pressed families who, through no fault of their own, need help to simply get by.”