Anti-poverty campaigners are calling for action as a “heart-breaking” report revealed a “bleak picture of a society in crisis”.
A new report published on Monday from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) in Scotland found that nearly one in five households on low incomes have gone both hungry and cold this year.
The Poverty in Scotland report includes data from a survey, thought to be the biggest of its kind, of 4,196 Scottish households in July and August this year.
Researchers found that people are “desperately” cutting back, with nearly two in three respondents (65%) saying they have cut back on an essential, while one in four (26%) have cut back on three or more essentials.
It added that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting people’s mental health, with three in four families with a child where someone has a disability and four in five families with a baby saying it was having a negative impact.
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 ahead of a winter which will see energy bills sharply rise.
The JRF report also found that a third of all people surveyed said they have either no savings or their savings were less than £250, with single parents more than twice as likely to have little or no savings.
As a result, the charity is calling on the Scottish and UK Governments to focus on two areas for urgent and significant action.
After Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget announcement of a £45bn package of tax cuts, the value of the pound has plummeted while mortgage lenders are revoking offers and increasing interest rates.
The JRF is now urging both governments to protect low-income households from unaffordable costs in the coming months and to prevent the worst impacts of the crisis from ever happening again.
Chris Birt, JRF associate director for Scotland, said: “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.”
The JRF said the report “paints a bleak picture of a society in crisis”.
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.”
Speaking ahead of a JRF cost of living event on Monday, Scotland’s social justice secretary, Shona Robison said: “Tackling child poverty is a national mission and we are doing everything we can within our limited powers and fixed budget to support those who need it.
“We have allocated almost £3bn in this financial year to contribute towards mitigating the cost-of-living crisis and almost a third of this support is only available in Scotland.
“Yet at the same time as we focus on providing direct financial support to people on the lowest incomes, UK Government policy undermines this.
“For example, if welfare reforms introduced since 2015 were reversed, this would put £780 million into the pockets of Scottish households and lift 30,000 children out of poverty in 2023-24.
“The UK Government’s reckless mini-budget, borrowing to cut the top rate of tax, will plunge millions of households into financial uncertainty and require a squeeze on public spending while benefiting the very rich.”
She said that the Scottish Government is “prioritising action to help households in need”.
But Scottish Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “The JRF have set out the heartbreaking reality of what this cost-of-living crisis means for people across Scotland.
“The UK has been abandoned by a callous Tory government, which has taken a wrecking ball to the economy and chose to fund tax cuts for the rich instead of helping people who need it.
“The SNP rightly demand more from the Tories, but this report makes clear that, whist they have taken some action, there is still much more they should and must do. It’s time they stopped focusing on what they can’t do and started doing what they can.
“Labour have led the way from opposition, calling for a freeze on rents and energy bills, and to cancel school meal debt.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Latest figures show there were two million fewer people in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2009/10, including 500,000 fewer children and 400,000 pensioners.
“But we recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of the most vulnerable families across England, Scotland and Wales, with at least £1,200 of direct payments and saving households an average of £1,000 a year through our new Energy Price Guarantee.
“Through our £37bn support package we are saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut, allowing people on universal credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn, while all households will receive £400 towards energy costs.
“Around £237m has also been made available to devolved governments to spend at their discretion.
“This is in addition to the significant income tax and welfare powers they already have.”
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