ALMOST 300,000 households have been forced to rely on emergency aid from the Scottish Government in the last five years, according to new figures.

Between its creation in 2013 and March this year, the Scottish Welfare Fund awarded £164.8m to 296,520 households, most occupied by people living alone.

Around three quarters of payments were small crisis grants for food, essential heating and other living expenses, which last year cost £9.1m and averaged £77.

The rest were community care grants, which last year totalled £23.6m and averaged £599.

These were to help people settle in the community after time in care or prison, and to help families with one-off items such as cookers, washing machines or flooring.

Community care grants given to “families facing exceptional pressure” were up 10 per cent last year, with the fastest growing reason “a breakdown of relationships resulting in a move” and a need to prevent homelessness.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said the £33m-a-year Welfare Fund provided a “lifeline” for many struggling households.

He said: “The fact that 174,155 applications for crisis grants were made - over 9,000 more than last year - shows the sheer scale of just how many households in Scotland continue to struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.

“Even more worrying is another huge increase - 46 per cent - in the recorded reason for applying for a crisis grant as being ‘emergency - nowhere to stay and may resort to rough sleeping’. This has more than doubled in the last two years.

“A 27 per cent increase in applications due to benefit payment delays is also very concerning - especially considering the flawed Universal Credit system has not been fully rolled-out.”

More than half of payments went to people in the poorest 20 per cent of neighbourhoods.

SNP Social Security Secretary Shirley Anne-Somerville, said she was pleased nearly 300,000 households in need had been helped, but added she was "angry" that UK Government cuts to welfare were pushing "more and more people into poverty".

She said: “The Scottish Government is spending over £125m this year alone trying to allay the very worst effects of these harmful cuts and protect those on low incomes. Local authorities are dealing with new applications every week and we will continue to do all we can to support hard pressed families and individuals who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to make ends meet.”