Hungry families are seeking help from Citizens Advice after being without food for several days, while others are unable to afford basics such as electricity or gas, a damning report into the state of poverty in Scotland has revealed.
Citizens Advice Scotland warned that that state support network is failing vulnerable people, forcing them into extreme poverty.
The study found that one in every 42 inquiries to the service are related to food bank referrals, a 47 per cent increase since 2013-14, while the number of people needing crisis grants – emergency cash payments – has more than doubled over the same period.
One-third of people who attend Citizens Advice Scotland appointments who are in need of food bank referrals have children, while one in ten is homeless.
Experts say that recent changes to the social security system, benefit rates not keeping pace with inflation, low pay, insecure work and rising costs of living have all contributed to people’s decreasing resilience to income shocks.
John Finch, an adviser at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Leith, said he had witnessed a notable increase in people living in dire conditions before seeking help.
“We are definitely seeing more people in extreme circumstances than we were before,” he said. “I would say in about ten per cent of cases, you think ‘I really have to do something about this right now’. Then we make phone calls or make an urgent referral to a food bank.”
In the report, Living at the Sharp End, Citizens Advice Scotland said people were falling into extreme poverty after losing access to benefits or state support – leaving them without even basic necessities.
One woman, a single mother with two young children, contacted an Edinburgh bureau for help after her tax credits stopped abruptly.
She was told she would receive a letter within seven to ten days explaining why, to find the error had occurred after the benefits system had issued an overpayment – which she now has to refund.
“When I called the tax credits help line to ask how I might cope when my tax credits stopped, I was told to use the food bank, and that I could manage without central heating,” she said. “I’ve got children, one of whom has asthma.”
Susan McPhee, head of policy and public affairs at Citizens Advice Scotland, warned that the social security system is “simply not working” for vulnerable people and urged that Scotland should assert that “extreme poverty has no place in our society”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We share CAS’ concerns about poverty in Scotland which is why we are taking action to tackle these inequalities. It is clear that the UK government’s continued welfare cuts alongside benefit sanctions and delays are consistently pushing people into crisis situations.”