Scotland’s local authorities are not making full use of Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) money provided by the Scottish Government to alleviate extreme financial hardship, according to a new analysis published today by the Poverty and Inequality Commission.
The Commission, an independent body charged with scrutinising Scotland’s progress towards tackling poverty and inequality, found that there had been a total of £8.6 million of SWF spend in April, May and June this year, when hardship during lockdown would have been at its height. This represented 15% of this year’s SWF budget of £57.6 million.
However, if spending were to proportionately match the increase in SWF funding provided by the Scottish Government at the outset of the crisis, this figure should have been 25%, or £14.4 million. This led the Commission in their report to say they were “shocked that more of the funding available was not used to provide a much-needed lifeline for people battling hardship”.
In response, the Commission has made a number of recommendations to ministers, including that the Scottish Government set minimum award amounts for applicants, improve its monitoring and evaluation of local SWF administration and also to develop a national policy to provide support to those individuals who have no recourse to public funds (and therefore shut out of the social security system). The full list of recommendations can be found in the notes to editors below.
Commenting on the report, the Poverty and Inequality Commission’s chair Bill Scott said, “The impact of the pandemic on those on low incomes has been drastic. In April, more than one in five people across Scotland said they were very or extremely concerned about being able to pay bills. We are seeing drastic increases in food parcel provision and emergency grants across the third sector. We know that local authority staff have been committed and worked diligently through a challenging time to meet the needs of vulnerable people. Yet, the SWF remains under-utilised, to the detriment of those who need access to its funding the most.”
A number of reasons are given for this discrepancy, including lack of knowledge amongst those who are in need of assistance of the SWF and variations in how local authorities promote the fund. Barriers in the application process, an apparent suspension of Community Care grants and a lack of resources to administer the SWF locally were also identified as potential explanations for the low take-up.
Bill Scott continued, “It is unacceptable that the Scottish Welfare Fund is not being promoted properly and that known barriers to accessing this vital support still exist. People must know where to go for financial assistance and then receive necessary funding easily and with dignity. Our report raises a number of issues about the SWF that we will seek to resolve with the Scottish Government with the utmost urgency.”