Councils “hiding” welfare fund - as they fear being swamped by desperate Scots

Crop foodbank sign

Foodbank use is growing in Scotland.

Charities say local authorities have avoided publicising the Scottish Welfare Fund as they can't cope with demand

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20th June 2019 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Councils are not advertising a fund to help the most vulnerable Scots – because they fear being swamped by applicants.

The Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) was set up to provide non-repayable cash grants to people without food or other basics.

But such is the scale of austerity besetting communities, some local authorities have avoided publicising its availability they would not be able to cope with demand.

The situation was revealed in a report by charity coalition A Menu For Change, which campaigns on food poverty and consists of Oxfam Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, Nourish Scotland and the Poverty Alliance.

Problems have arisen because the £38 million budget for the SWF has remained static since it was introduced in 2013.

This amounts to a real-terms cut year-on-year, with many councils having to use “significant” amounts of their own funds to top it up.

The scale of the underlying problem is also outlined in the report, which states that the number of people forced to use foodbanks continues to grow.

In response to this backdrop of growing need, the Scottish Welfare Fund: Strengthening the Safety Net report, found that none of the councils spoken to “actively advertise” the fund, adding: “One local authority interviewee joked, ‘Don’t tell anyone we’re out there!’ This was a sentiment expressed by many SWF staff members who took part in the research.”

The report continues: “Based on interviews with those delivering the SWF, there is evidence that local authorities choose not to advertise the fund, not because they do not want people to receive their entitlements, but because they don’t feel they have the resources necessary to cope with the demand which advertising would create.”

The report also found there is a “fundamental under-resourcing”, adding: “To address this, the Scottish Government should consult with every local authority to determine the funding each requires to implement practice that would ensure everyone who needs support through the SWF knows about its existence and is able to easily access a fast, high quality decision.

“Increasing local authorities’ ability to advertise and administer the fund will undoubtedly impact how much money is available to give to applicants.”

David Hilber, project officer at A Menu for Change, said: “If you’ve run out of money, the Scottish Welfare Fund should be there to ensure you can get cash to buy food and other essentials, but our research has found barriers along the way. Too few people know that the fund exists and councils say they can’t afford to properly advertise it because of the potential scale of the demand.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said more than £190m has been paid out from the SWF and that over 316,000 low income households in crisis have been helped to buy essentials such as nappies, food and cookers through the SWF since it was established in 2013.