Poverty commission 'shocked' at councils' low spend of Scottish Welfare Fund
Scotland’s independent poverty advisor says it is“shocked” at the level of Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) cash left unspent by local authorities.
The Poverty and Inequality Commission says that councils could have spent £5.8m more to help people over lockdown if it were to match the increase in SWF provided by the Scottish Government at the outset of the crisis.
The commission said it is “shocked that more of the funding available was not used to provide a much-needed lifeline for people battling hardship”.
In a report, the commission found that there had been a total of £8.6m of SWF spend in April, May and June this year, when hardship during lockdown would have been at its height.
This would represent 15 per cent of this year’s SWF budget of £57.6m.
However, if spending were to proportionately match the increase in SWF funding provided by the Scottish Government, the commission says, spending should have reached 25 per cent, or £14.4m.
The commission argued that the Scottish Government should now set a minimum award amounts for applications and do more to improve its monitoring and evaluation of SWF administration.
It also said that the government should develop a national policy to provide support to people who have no recourse to public funds.
The commission is independent from the Scottish Government and provides advice to ministers and scrutinises progress on poverty reduction.
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.”
He added: “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.”