A NEW REPORT FROM THE JOSEPH ROWNTREE FOUNDATION (JRF) in Scotland paints a bleak picture of a nation in crisis mode after the fiercest attack on living standards in a lifetime. The report includes distressing testimonies from thousands of families struggling to come to terms with the extent of the cost-of-living crisis.

The latest Poverty in Scotland report from JRF includes a survey by Savanta ComRes of 4,196 Scottish households, thought to be the biggest of its kind. It found people are increasingly fearful for the future and cutting back on the basics of survival.

The results show:

  • People’s finances are already fragile. A third of all people surveyed said they have either no savings or their savings were less than £250. Single parents were more than twice as likely to have little or no savings (70 per cent)
  • People are desperately cutting back. Going without essentials is endemic – nearly two in three (65 per cent) have cut back on an essential while one in four (26 per cent) have cut back on three or more essentials. Even the basics are hard to come by with three in four households having already cut back on the basics.
  • People feel insecure and fear for the worst. More than one in five people said they felt their household financial situation was very insecure
  • The cost-of-living crisis is having a deleterious impact on people’s mental health. Three in four families with a child where someone has a disability said it had a negative impact on their mental health. The number was four in five for families with a baby.

JRF commissioned the survey due to a lack of official statistics which the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) could not accurately collect due to the Covid-19 pandemic. JRF also gave people on low incomes the opportunity to describe how increasing costs have affected them.

One respondent, a woman in Fife, told JRF, at one point, things were so bad she broke down in tears when her child asked why they couldn’t get more food. She said: “I just left the room because I just couldn’t answer her. To have to explain to your five-year-old why you can’t buy more food is actually horrendous.”

The report’s authors said they were particularly concerned that people felt this way at the height of summer. As the weather gets harsher, and days shorter, the demand for practically unaffordable energy and nourishing food will only increase.

After hearing directly from people living in poverty, they ask what more evidence do governments need before they will take meaningful action.

JRF suggests the Scottish and UK Governments focus on two areas for urgent and significant action: protecting low-income households from the unaffordable costs in the coming months and preventing the worst impacts of this crisis from ever happening again.

Low-income families on means-tested benefits across the UK face a £450 gap in their finances even after the UK Government’s energy price guarantee.

While Scottish families will avail of more specific support which reduces this gap, public services should still treat this crisis like the Covid pandemic and make payments such as a £260 payment to those in receipt of council tax reduction, among others, which would target the households who need the most help.

Chris Birt, JRF Associate Director for Scotland, said: “It is vital, in the absence of an official record, to have a clear view of the impact that this cost-of-living emergency has placed people in. Taken with the work of others across the third sector, the picture provided by this report is clear and heart-breaking.

“This huge survey and the lived experience of people living in poverty must be heard. We wonder how the politicians who completely overlooked these people in the recent mini-budget can stand by their actions. Or can they now admit they’ve failed to insulate people from the worst?

“With that in mind it is shocking and morally indefensible to hear the UK Government just this week suggesting that they may not do what Rishi Sunak promised and uprate benefits by inflation next April as usual. This will mean yet another devastating blow, after a decade of sucker punches, to the finances of people on the lowest incomes and will cause extra terror and hardship for people who are already struggling to put food on the table and stay warm.

“While the UK Government’s immoral abandonment of those who need the support most is indefensible, people are now looking to the Scottish Government for support and they deserve no less.

“As part of that, the Scottish Government must not copy the UK Government’s approach to cuts to income tax and Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and use the additional revenues to ease the cost of living pressures on low-income families. Like in Covid-19 we as a society can, and should, contribute to ensuring that those who have the least have the support that they need.”

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “This report represents a failure of compassion and justice on the part of our politicians. Government has a moral responsibility to protect people from harm, but they are clearly failing.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We can work together to make sure every worker has a real Living Wage, and everyone has an income that’s adequate to provide for a secure, decent life. Ending poverty in Scotland isn’t impossible – it’s a political and economic choice.”

Laura Millar, Strategic Manager at Fife Gingerbread, said: “As we recover from the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis feels like a new wave of uncertainty and worry for families. At Fife Gingerbread, we are experiencing an increase in the need for crisis support for food and fuel, observing the toll on the mental health of parents and hearing about the impact on children.

“Many children are unable to fully participate in their communities through activities like football clubs, swimming lessons and drama classes. We must aspire to give our children more than just the essentials – they deserve more. Families are already overwhelmed in many cases. How can they be expected to find the resilience needed for the coming months?

“We are increasingly worried about families that are ‘just about managing’ – those who perhaps have needed support in the past but will be forced to seek out services like ours.”

* The Poverty in Scotland report is available to download here.

* Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation