Families ‘facing destitution’ after years of austerity

Research found a rising need compounded with dwindling resources had left some families struggling.

Years of austerity have left many vulnerable families facing destitution, according to a new report from NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland.

Challenges from the Frontline – Revisited highlights that family support needs were increasing while funding for services was being cut before the coronavirus crisis hit the country.

The research, carried out before the pandemic, showed a rising need compounded with dwindling resources had left some families struggling to obtain adequate food, secure housing and basic necessities.

Service managers told researchers welfare reform had financially punished a whole section of the population.

One said: “Because so many of our families are on Universal Credit that does not allow them to have a standard of living that meets the needs of those adults and children within the household. It simply does not.”

Another service manager said: “It’s the poverty and disadvantage that we see now.

“It was always there but it’s certainly exacerbated by the welfare reform over the past few years.

“The rise of foodbanks here is massive. Families use them on a regular basis and you can see that, families who come to us and are really struggling.”

The research found too many families were coming to support services already at crisis point.

The charities have called on Scottish Government ministers to push ahead with implementing findings by the Independent Care Review, which issued a report in February.

They added that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented the opportunity to overhaul services.

Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland head of service, said: “Our research reveals that families were facing destitution, isolation and mental health struggles before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

“We found that against a backdrop of years of austerity there was escalating need for help from families who were struggling with more complex problems, being met with less support than before.

“We know that adverse and traumatic experiences in childhood can have a profound impact on a person’s life.

“And it is crucial this unacceptable situation, now compounded by the Covid-19 crisis, is addressed with a matter of urgency.”

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “Supporting vulnerable families mitigates social inequality and improves children’s life opportunities.

“The coronavirus crisis provides a huge opportunity to make meaningful, sustainable, transformative change.

“We need to harness the desire to do things differently, to reach out to families with a strengthened social safety net to prevent longer term difficulties developing in young people’s lives.

“The Independent Care Review’s promise has given us a blueprint for family support and we must deliver on this without delay.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that this is a difficult time for many families and more people are facing financial insecurity from the impacts of coronavirus.

“This is why we are prioritising the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment which will open for applications in November with payments beginning in February. Scotland is the only part of the UK tackling child poverty head on through this brand new benefit of £10 per week per eligible child under six.

“In addition as part of our £350m community funding package to support those most in need during the pandemic, we have invested over £120m in supporting people with food, including ensuring free school meal provision over the summer, and increased support for housing. In addition we paid carers in receipt of Carer’s Allowance a further supplement this year.

“We responded to challenges set out in the Independent Care Review’s Promise report, by working with Fiona Duncan and her team to establish the Promise Partnership as a priority. 

“Already we have invested £4m to the partnership to deliver holistic family support, in line with the key principles of our framework which have been shaped by the Covid-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group.”

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