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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

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New report warns of deepening poverty crisis threatening Scottish families

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SCOTTISH children’s charity, Aberlour has published a new report which warns thousands more families are at risk of falling into poverty due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aberlour issued the warning after the true extent of increased demand on its Urgent Assistance Fund was revealed in the new report, which was prepared by Professor Morag Treanor from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University.

Between March and August this year, the charity gave out over £370,000 in emergency cash grants, with demand for the fund increasing by over 1,000% based on the same time period last year, while the value of grants given out increased by 52%. In total 3,264 children were supported by the fund.

Analysis of the cash donations has revealed that applications for funding came from 31 of the 32 Local Authorities across Scotland[1] from families that were desperate for help, with the majority of applications coming from the Glasgow area. Almost all of the applications received were for basic essentials from families who were unable to afford to feed their children (60%), unable to afford to keep their homes warm (50%), and who couldn’t afford to clothe their children adequately (29%).

The report also found that 71 per cent of the applications were made by single parents, despite single parent families only making up 25 per cent of the population in Scotland[2]. Meanwhile, Aberlour found the number one reason for families requiring emergency cash was because of parental mental health issues (17% of families), which shows the hugely negative impact the pandemic is having on people’s mental health.

Other applications were for bedding, baby supplies or to replace essential white goods in the home including fridges, washing machines and cookers.

The recent labour report released by the Office of National Statistics (on 10 November) has found that the UK’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, up from 4.5%, and redundancies rose to a record high of 314,000 during the same period pushing more families towards the edge of poverty.

This November Aberlour has launched its urgent ‘Surviving Winter Appeal’ to raise funds that will go towards tackling poverty and inequality across Scotland.

SallyAnn Kelly, Chief Executive of Aberlour Children’s Charity warned:

“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.”

Professor Morag Treanor from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University who wrote the report, 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.”

A family support worker, who referred many families to Aberlour, said:

“It was particularly tough for the families referred to Aberlour who had been doing quite well and managing fine financially, and never had to worry about the benefits system. All of a sudden, they or their partner lost their job, and they couldn’t afford to pay the bills or put food on the table. That for them was a huge shock; when you have gone from managing, feeling really quite confident about your monthly budget, and then that just falls down overnight. It wasn’t just the financial impact, but the emotional impact too. One parent came to us and asked, how do I feed my children?! I have no money left. That was the biggest change from COVID, families who have never struggled before, their worlds were suddenly torn apart.”

Case study – Sue’s story

Sue lives in Falkirk with her husband and six children. Sue first found out about Aberlour three years ago. Her son Luke, who was only 11 at the time, was having problems at school. He has ADHD and autism, and it was clear to her that he wasn’t getting the support he needed with his education. No one was listening to her, until Angela, a Support Family Worker from Aberlour stepped in. Angela’s job is to help children like Luke and their families with whatever issues they may be facing before they get out of control.

Together, Angela and Sue worked with the school so Luke could have the same opportunity to thrive as every other child. As Aberlour says, ‘A bad start shouldn’t mean a bad end.’ Luke’s situation began to improve, and he started to do much better.

Then COVID hit.

Now Sue didn’t just have to deal with Luke’s issues – she also had to worry about where the next meal was coming from. Her husband was furloughed, so their income took a heavy hit. Bills and debts began to mount up, and feeding the children became a big challenge. Her family tried to help with the grocery shops whenever they could, but they were forced to start using a food bank. The family also started to struggle to find enough money to keep the electricity meter topped up, and the warning beep was a constant reminder that money was about to run out.

It was then Sue decided to get back in touch with Angela. She helped Sue access an emergency cash grant from Aberlour’s Urgent Assistance Fund, which meant she was able to buy food to feed the children and top up the electricity meter to keep them warm. They are also working together on a longer-term plan to get on top of the family’s finances.

Sue said:

“Before lockdown things were starting to get back on track for us. Don’t get me wrong, we still had our ups and downs but we were coping and Luke was doing much better. Then, when COVID hit, things quickly started to get worse. 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. It’s more than just help for the children, it’s emotional help for us as well. I know that Angela will always be there at the end of the phone. She was there for us before the pandemic, during the lockdown, and I know she will still be there whenever I need her help in the future.”

To donate, please visit: www.aberlour.org.uk/survivingwinter

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