A children’s charity that provides emergency cash grants to families facing poverty has said demand for help has risen by more than 1000% in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown.
Aberlour said it has helped more than 2000 families from its Urgent Assistance Fund since March, providing cash for the “basic essentials that are needed to survive”.
Between March 19 – shortly before Scotland went into lockdown – and July 20 alone it received 1511 applications for help, compared with just 134 in the same period of 2019.
A new evaluation of the scheme, carried out by researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, found: “This is an increase of more than 1,000% in families making applications to the fund for hardship.”
Over that four-month period, Aberlour provided families with financial help amounting to £372,590.20.
A total of 900 families have applied for help since March so they can feed their children, with a further 753 applications seeking money to deal with heating bills.
Aberlour has received 432 applications for help with children’s clothing, 321 for bedding and 143 for baby supplies.
The report said: “It is striking that these requests are for items of basic subsistence, indicative of levels of poverty we would consider more absolute than relative.
“Before receiving money from Aberlour’s Urgent Assistance Fund, families report being unable to feed their children adequately, having children sleeping on floors, having mattresses with springs poking out hurting children and having clothes that are too small.
“Families were relieved and grateful for Aberlour’s help.”
Applications came from 31 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities – with almost half (46.6%) coming from the Glasgow City Council area, with the charity providing help for 704 families with 1547 in this area alone.
The only local authority area with no applications during the period of the study was Aberdeenshire, with the report noting this is “one of the local authority areas with the lowest levels of child poverty in Scotland”.
Almost three-quarters (71%) of the families that benefited were lone parents, with the report noting: “This contrasts greatly with the proportion of families in the general population headed by a lone parent, which is approximately 25%.”
Report author Professor Morag Treanor from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University said: “What is striking here is that all of the applications made to the Urgent Assistance Fund were for basic essentials that are needed to survive.
“This demonstrates that there is a level of need across families in Scotland that is really quite fundamental and absolute, and on a higher scale than we have seen for some time.”
Sue, a mother-of-six from Falkirk, turned to Aberlour after her family struggled with bills when her husband was furloughed during lockdown.
She said: “I was embarrassed about what people would think when I started using the food bank, and on top of that with the whole family at home and a new baby to keep warm our utility bills were much bigger than before.
“I just felt hopeless. The help we got was absolutely fantastic. I can’t think how I would have done it without Aberlour.”
The report said help was needed because of “debilitating changes to family situations as a result of Covid-19”.
Some families were not eligible for the furlough scheme when lockdown started and lost their jobs as result.
Others were “told, incorrectly, that they were not entitled to furlough payment and spent several weeks with no income until the situation was rectified”.
Some of those who were self-employed did not meet the criteria for receiving Government help.
While some families applied for Universal Credit, this has a five-week waiting time for money to be paid out.
SallyAnn Kelly, chief executive of Aberlour, said: “When the lockdown started, we feared that it would have a devastating impact on families living in or on the edge of poverty.
“This has sadly proved to be the case.
“While our services have continued to support children and families throughout Scotland, and our supporters have donated magnificent sums to our Urgent Assistance Fund, we need to continue to raise more money to sustain our vital work and reach more families at risk of falling through the cracks.”
The charity has now launched its Surviving Winter Appeal to raise funds to help with tackling poverty and inequality in Scotland.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the challenge that many families are facing as a result of the Covid pandemic and backed by an initial £350m package of communities funding have made significant investment to support people impacted.
“This includes investing £57.5m in the Scottish Welfare Fund, making over £80m available for Discretionary Housing Payments and introducing a new Self-Isolation Support Grant.
“We have also made over £130m available to tackle food insecurity, including extending the provision of free school meals in school holidays to Easter 2021, and made £20m of flexible funding available to local authorities to tackle financial insecurity over the winter months.”
He added: “We remain absolutely committed to tackling child poverty head-on, with applications for the ‘game-changing’ Scottish Child Payment opening on November 9, ahead of the first payments made from February 15 for eligible children under six.
“The Scottish Child Payment, together with Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, will provide over £5200 of financial support for families by the time their first child turns six.
“For second and subsequent children this will provide over £4900.”