Social security committee launch inquiry into debt and low income
MSPs have been told debt problems may be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with many low income families struggling to pay rent, council tax and fuel bills.
Holyrood’s social security committee is now seeking views from debt advice services for its new inquiry into low income and debt.
It follows an informal evidence session towards the end of last year where MSPs heard about the impact of debt.
Elena Whitham MSP, the new convener of the committee, said: “With the cost of living rising sharply, our committee is concerned that the situation will get worse. It is vital that we can make sure help is available whenever, wherever and however it is needed.
“We want to hear the views of people and organisations working in debt and money advice, local and national third sector organisations and local authorities.”
The call for evidence is open until 31 March.
The committee is set to hold evidence sessions for the inquiry later in the year to discuss the rising cost of living, stigma associated with debt, mental health impacts and digital exclusion from debt advice services.
One person who used debt advice services told MSPs during the informal session: “The pandemic has made it a lot more difficult to get compassionate people on the phone. You call up, explain the situation, go through the expenditure sheets, people reply, ‘well there are a lot of people in your situation because of the pandemic’.
“I feel like I’m just a number and it’s very dehumanising. I’ve gone from popping in for drop-in advice while I’m in town and being treated like a person to being treated like a statistic.”
And one debt adviser said: “A lot of people fall into debt due to change of circumstances, like a relationship breakdown, bereavement, losing a job or having a child. People don’t decide to spend, spend, spend and then be in debt. The idea of willful debt is a myth – certainly in the clients I see.”