Scottish Welfare Fund: Scottish Government doubles funds available – but Councils REDUCE payments during pandemic!
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the poorest hardest, in many ways. In response to the emergency the Scottish government added £45 million to the Scottish Welfare Fund, more than doubling its funding. The aim – to support people during the pandemic. But despite this, the local Councils – who administer the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) – are actually paying out LESS in grants to needy applicants than they did during the same period last year!
The SWF supports people in real need, and the government promised that by boosting the fund Councils would have greater flexibility in making SWF payments “to ensure they can fully support people in financial crisis, including workers in the ‘gig economy’.“ But Scottish Government figures reveal that while in April and May 2019 councils disbursed a total of over £6.5 million in SWF grants, in April and May 2020 less than £6 million was paid out to needy people. So despite having more than twice as much money to make grants, and despite soaring need, at the height of the pandemic Scottish local authorities have unbelievably REDUCED the SWF grants.
No-one seems to have acknowledged this. Nicola Sturgeon declared at her Coronavirus briefing on 7 July “that the total value of crisis grant payments in May was more than 40% higher than in May last year”. This is true – but the total value of Community care grant (CCG) payments in May was 61% LOWER than in May last year.
A significant aspect of CCG are payments for household items/furniture, and thus some reduction could perhaps be expected in that area during the lockdown. However while there was a drop in CCG applications in May 2020 compared to May 2019, the 21% fall in applications was much less than the 61% drop in payments, likely indicating a high level of application refusals and/or low awards. The April CCG figures show a similar pattern.
What’s more the Scottish Government announced that Councils were granted greater flexibility in making SWF payments, and so there is no excuse for local authorities to be reducing payments at a time of soaring need.
Even though the payment of Crisis Grants has increased, it has not increased by anything like the amount needed to meet the need – or even spend the Scottish Government money made available.
Shirley Anne-Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, stated in the Scottish Parliament on 27/3/20 that the guidelines normally limiting crisis grants to 3 per year were scrapped.
But an investigation by ECAP has revealed that virtually all Scottish Councils appear intent on maintaining this restriction on Crisis Grant payments. This would deprive people in need of vital support. Virtually every Scottish local authority still declares on its website that Crisis Grants are normally restricted to three per year. The Highland Council website even declares (under subtitle ‘You need help due to circumstances related to Coronavirus/Covid-19’ section) that “You should not apply for a Crisis grant if you have already had three Crisis grants or awards made to you in the last 12 months”. This is plain wrong and the exact opposite of the real situation!
One applicant in Edinburgh, applying for a Crisis Grant during the pandemic, was wrongly told that they could not be awarded a Grant because they had already had three grants in the last 12 months. When ECAP challenged and denounced this as wrong, Edinburgh Council then did pay the applicant a Crisis Grant. But how many applicants are being wrongly refused grants? And how many people are being put off applying by Councils wrongly stating that the Crisis Grant limits still stand? This denial of support to people in need is unacceptable.
If you are in need then you should apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund – information here. If refused then contest the decision. Seek support from ECAP or similar group. Ask for backing from your local councillors. The Councils have been given £45 million extra in funds which they should be paying out.
ECAP insists the Councils in Scotland must pay out the extra cash they have been given as grants to people in need. Councils must make clear the 3 Crisis Grants per year limit is scrapped and make payments accordingly. And the Scottish Government should tell local authorities they must widely publicise the extra support available, massively increase payments, and implement the new rules ending the restriction on Crisis Grant payments.
Email Scottish Government Social Security cabinet secretary Shirley Anne Somerville and your MSP’s – download below.
Contact your local Council to insist they widely publicise the fact that there is now significant extra money available in the Scottish Welfare Fund and that the three Crisis Grants per year guideline limit is scrapped. And that they correct the wrong statements on their websites.
* Edinburgh councillors can be found at this site. For other areas see your local council website.
* Total expenditure by Scottish Councils on SWF grants:
April & May 2020 – £5,936,620
April & May 2019 – £6,535,479
March, April, & May 2020 – £9,216,043
March, April & May 2019 – £9,834,765
* Even when the 3 Crisis Grants per year limit DID apply this was only supposed to be a guideline which could be disregarded in “exceptional circumstances” – instead Councils seemed to often regard it as a set rule and refuse to consider a Crisis Grant when 3 had already been paid.
* The SWF is not properly promoted or publicised by Councils. John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland stated that the increased investment in the SWF was vital but that “… too many people still end up at food banks or relying on charity handouts because they either don’t know about the Fund, aren’t able to access it or are refused assistance. It’s vital that local and national government work together to review the operation of the Fund and more widely promote the support it can provide.”