SCOTLAND is facing a “cost  of living” crisis as people struggle to pay bills and food amid the pandemic.

The warning has been issued by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), after the organisation carried out research on people’s fears and concerns over meeting essential costs during the outbreak.

The tracking poll of more than 1,000 adults found 34% are concerned about their ability to pay for food and other essentials.

Certain groups are especially worried – 39% of those in debt said they may not be able to make repayments while 41% of renters said they may struggle to make rent payments.

Many workers have been placed on furlough as businesses struggle to stay afloat, while others have lost jobs altogether and same have seen pay or hours cut.

The research from ScotPulse also found 31% of mortgage-payers in Scotland are worried about falling behind, while 35% of utility customers are worried about their bills.

CAS, which represents Citizens Advice centres across Scotland, is urging people to claim what they are entitled to to boost their incomes.

The UK and Scottish governments have announced a series of measures to help household incomes during the crisis. These include the job retention scheme, increased availability of the Scottish Welfare Fund, further funding for council tax reduction and an increased value of benefits such as Universal Credit.

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CAS chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “These figures provide a stark illustration of what has been clear for some time – coronavirus is not just a public health crisis but represents a cost of living one for households as well.

“Our network helps hundreds of thousands every year and we have seen for some time the problem of people just about managing in our economy – people who are especially vulnerable to disruptions to their income or significant increases in bills.

“What is welcome is that both the UK and Scottish governments recognised these risks early in the process, announcing a vital package of measures to help people, from boosting Universal Credit to increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund.”

Mr Mitchell urged employers to take advantage of the job retention scheme and said Citizens Advice centres were on hand to help anyone who is struggling.

Pollster Mark Diffley designed the survey, which was conducted using the ScotPulse online panel.

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He said: “Concern about day-to-day expenses is being felt in all parts of the country and in all sections of the population; people of all ages, from all social backgrounds and in all regions will feel the financial force of the pandemic.

“However, it is also clear concern is being most clearly felt by younger people and those from the more deprived social grades. For example, almost half  of renters aged 16-34 express concern about being able to pay their rent, while only 25% of those aged 55+ feel the same way.

“Similarly, 40% of those in  the C2, D, E social grades are concerned about paying for food and essentials, compared to 24% among those in the A, B, C1 social grades.”

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The Scottish Government has also announced a £5 million pot of  emergency support to help students facing hardship due to the outbreak. 

Extra cash will be available to any university and college students now struggling including those attending private institutions.

CAS says it helped more than 272,500 people in Scotland in 2018-19 and, with support from its network, clients gained more than £134 million.

Its advice is free, independent, and available to everyone.