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Struggling Scots raiding savings to pay their bills

ONE in six Scots households are raiding their savings to pay for day-to-day living expenses as they struggle to cope with higher utility, food and fuel bills in the face of another year of frozen wage packets.

Almost half (49%) of people have admitted in a new poll to regularly delving into their savings last year, with one-third (36%) unable to put any money aside in 2012.

Today's report lays bare the dire straits numerous Scots families are in, with many private-sector companies freezing pay for a fourth year in a row.

Last week, Chancellor George Osborne was put under more pressure over his austerity policies after the Office for National Statistics suggested the economy flatlined in 2012, with worse-than-expected output figures suggesting Britain is on course for a triple-dip recession.

The Bank of Scotland study follows energy price hikes of between 6% and 10%, soaring food bills, petrol price rises of 2.75p a litre over the past year and claims 40% of private-sector workers were given a freeze in their 2012 pay settlements.

In the public sector, 250,000 council workers are due to see their wages go up by just 1% in April, ending a two-year freeze.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said struggling consumers are often left with the choice of either using their savings or going into debt by putting their additional bills on credit cards. In some cases they have to resort to controversial payday loan firms offering high interest rates.

Chief executive Margaret Lynch said: "This report shows the grim reality of what life is like for Scotland's families in today's economy. Sadly, CAS advisers see these realities every day in the growing numbers of people who are coming to seek advice on financial problems.

"The economic equation is simple: basic living costs are going up all the time while household incomes are frozen, or falling. So people are struggling just to pay for the essentials in life – things like rent or mortgage, fuel and food.

"There's not much left to save. And indeed many people are having to use their savings to help them get by. Those who don't have significant savings are having to get into debt, or go without essentials like food and fuel altogether."

According to the Bank of Scotland Savings Index, one in nine Scots (11%) are dipping into their savings on a monthly basis, while 15% access them every couple of months and 23% raid their account a couple of times a year.

The most common reason is to pay for a holiday, with more than one-quarter of savers (28%) admitting to this. Just more than one-fifth also access their saving accounts to cover unexpected costs, including emergency household repairs or car maintenance.

But 83% of Scots say they understand the importance of saving regularly, with 81% stating they try to save any spare money they have.

Andy Bickers, the bank's savings director, said: "The nation's wallets have been under much strain, so it is not surprising savings have moved down the priority list for many in Scotland. Although it is encouraging so many agree it is important to save, it is clear many Scots are struggling to do so in the current climate."

On average, consumers in Scotland believe the minimum they need to save for a rainy day is just less than the equivalent of 10 weeks of their household income.

The research shows the amount actually being saved is less than eight weeks' household income as people do not have enough spare cash to save what they would like.

It also reveals one-third of people believe they will have to reduce the amount they save or stop altogether in the year ahead, with just 15% claiming they will be able to save more.

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