Going without essentials like food and heating is now “endemic”, a leading charity has warned, as the biggest study of its kind laid bare the “heartbreaking” struggles Scots on lower incomes are facing.
The cost-of-living crisis has left one in ten families cold and hungry before winter hits, a situation that was described as “shameful” by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)
The charity welcomed the decision to cap energy bills at £2,500 but said the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor had then “wilfully ignored” the needs of low-income families in last month’s mini-budget while “providing significant tax cuts for the wealthiest”.
It described the decision to scrap the uprating of benefits in line with inflation as “morally indefensible”.
The survey, involving 4,196 people, found that almost one in five low-income households (a monthly net income of less than £2,063) have sold household belongings to deal with rising costs – compared to 5% for higher income households (an income of more than £4000).
Net income factors in number of adults and children in the household.
Debt is my lifeline; debt should not be a lifeline
Two in three (65%) have skipped meals or heated their home less often while three quarters have cut back on basics such as taking children out of nursery or stopped socialising.
One mother, from Glasgow, said: “My 14 year old is growing and is hungry all the time. We cannot afford the extra food so we have to bulk up his portions so my other children get less.”
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Another respondent, a woman in Fife, said 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.”
During the summer over two in five (44%) households heated their home less than they needed to or less often, to reduce cost.
Although the charity noted that it has been a warm summer across the UK generally, many areas of Scotland experienced cold and/or wet spells.
In late July, Tyndrum experienced a low temperature of 2.3 degrees overnight.
Everyone’s energy bill will be cut by £400, applied over six months, with a reduction of £66 in October and November, and £67 every month between December and March 2023.
One mother said: “I’ve had to reduce food intake, we make one meal for everyone. You take what you need and no more. We cannot waste one drop. I check the bin, and plates to make sure no one is leaving any food.”
The Scottish Government was praised for increasing child payments to £25 and introducing a rent freeze until March 2023.
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However, while Westminster faces the harshest judgement, the charity said decisions by the Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, could give the SNP a “crucial opportunity” to do more to help.
It said: “One quirk of the Fiscal Framework that dictates the Scottish Government’s spending power, however, is that if the UK Government cuts taxes and, broadly speaking, Scottish economic performance is around the same as the wider UK, these tax cuts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will lead to significant additional finance for the Scottish Government.”
The Scottish Government was urged to fund a one-off payment of £260 to all Scottish Child Payment recipients and those who quality for council tax reductions.
The report calls on the UK Government to immediately uprate all means-tested benefits by the current rate of inflation, rather than waiting until April.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
JRF associate director for Scotland Chris Birt said: “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.”
One third of households reported having little or no savings (that is, less than £250) and three-quarters of those households have no savings at all.
In Scotland, 7% of households have three or more debts and two in five (41%) households with debt have more than £2,500 of debt.
One participant said: “Debt is my lifeline; debt should not be a lifeline. I got told my credit card limit could be increased, I did a happy dance due to having more money. So, if the car goes, we have an option and I’m glad it will be there.’
During the Summer almost one in five households (18%) were already behind on one or more bills or payments and 7% of households had failed to pay an energy bill.