CHARITIES have sounded the alarm over an unprecedented surge in the number of emergency grants issued to struggling Scots.

New Scottish Government data on the Scottish Welfare Fund shows a huge rise in the number and value of crisis grants given out across Scotland as Covid-19 hit. 

Figures show 33,106 grants were applied for in April 2020 – an increase of 88 per cent compared to the same month last year.

Meanwhile, the value of the grants issued is up by 145%. 

A Menu for Change, a partnership between Oxfam Scotland, Nourish Scotland, the Poverty Alliance and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, called for extra steps to protect struggling families.

It said the UK Government must end the five week wait for Universal Credit, increase child benefit, and scrap the two-child limit. 

Meanwhile, Scottish ministers must ensure the new Scottish Child Payment is delivered quickly and, in the meantime, act on calls to use existing mechanisms to provide an immediate financial boost to all low income families. 

They must also ensure investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund is sufficient to support all those who need it, the partnership said.

Peter Kelly from A Menu for Change said: “These figures paint an alarming picture, with more individuals and families being pulled into poverty and large numbers being pushed to crisis point - this simply can’t be right.

“While the Scottish Welfare Fund throws a vital financial lifeline to those reaching crisis point, this rapid and significant increase in crisis grants exposes the gaps in the social safety net and inadequate incomes from paid employment, and we know that food bank use is on the rise too.

“The measures put in place to protect incomes during the Covid-19 crisis, including the UK Job Retention Scheme and the Scottish Government’s decision to increase the Scottish Welfare Fund, are hugely important. 

"It’s critical that councils have the resources they need in order to reach everybody in crisis and process applications swiftly.

“Since March we have seen just how compassionate our society can be with thousands of people volunteering, donating and working to ensure that everyone has enough food. 

"As we begin to move into a new phase of the response to Covid-19 we must do more to prevent people from reaching crisis by putting more money into their pockets.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We understand that this is difficult time for many families, which is why we more than doubled the Scottish Welfare Fund from £35.5 million to £80.5 million as part of our £350 million package of funding to support those most at risk. 

"In addition, we will be paying carers in receipt of Carers Allowance an additional supplement this year and have committed a further £5 million of funding for Discretionary Housing Payments.

“We are working on introducing the new Scottish Child Payment as quickly as possible to be part of the range of benefits available through Social Security Scotland. 

"This includes Best Start Foods and the three Best Start Grant payments, which provide a higher level of support than the DWP benefits they replace. 

"We have also provided £100,000 to Citizens Advice Scotland to ensure people can continue to access advice and information and ensure they are getting all the financial support they are entitled to, including through its new helpline.

“It is now vital that the UK Government match our efforts given that income replacement benefits are still reserved to Westminster. 

"They need to reverse their welfare cuts which are now hitting harder than ever. 

"This includes the benefit cap, bedroom tax, and two-child limit, for which we have continually called for change, as well as make fundamental alterations to Universal Credit to ensure it works for people.”