Coalition says more support must be made available during the coronavirus outbreak.
A coalition of anti-poverty charities is calling for a significant boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund.
The Poverty Alliance, Oxfam Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland say the investment is needed to help protect the country’s most disadvantaged people from the financial pressures of the coronavirus outbreak.
In a joint statement, the charities call for an “immediate and substantial” increase to the fund and a commitment to ensure financial support is given as quickly and effectively as possible.
They also want extra support to be given to councils to ensure support packages can be delivered amid increased pressure on services.
The Scottish Welfare Fund was established in 2013 to offer financial help to those facing crisis situations or struggling to live independently within their communities. Grants totalling £33 million were allocated across Scotland in 2018/19, and the Scottish Government announced in its latest draft budget that an additional £3m would be made available in the coming year.
However, charities fear that the Covid-19 pandemic will now place “unprecedented” levels of demand on the fund.
CAS said its most recent figures show a 12% increase in advice given on accessing crisis grants within the fund based on the last quarter. Previous research for the charity found that 34% of people would be unable to cover an unexpected but necessary expense of £500.
CAS social justice spokesperson Mhoraig Green said: “Our data suggests people are facing a huge crisis of income, often going without paying essential bills or buying food as a result of a lack of cash. This is all before the possible economic effects of coronavirus take place, with people facing disruptions in their income by not being able to work.
“An additional funding boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund will allow more people to apply in the first place and possibly allow the eligibility criteria to be relaxed on a case by case basis to allow more people to help.”
Peter Kelly, director of Poverty Alliance, said: “The action we take to protect our most vulnerable in the coming weeks will be a test of our shared values of justice and compassion.
“In the coming months we expect to see thousands of people plunged into destitution unless we significantly increase this vital safety net. The Scottish Government should immediately top up the Scottish Welfare Fund and commit to continually review funding to meet demand.”
CPAG Scotland director John Dickie said the impact of coronavirus would be especially hard on families who are already struggling financially.
“The Scottish Welfare Fund is a hugely important statutory source of cash support that provides a lifeline to households across the country,” he added.
“Unprecedented times now require unprecedented additional investment as part of a package of support for struggling families.”