By Alistair Grant

YEARS of austerity have had a “harrowing impact” on vulnerable families in Scotland, with some now facing destitution, a new report has warned.

Research by NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland highlighted the “devastating” impact of welfare reform and council funding cuts on children and their families. 

It said some families are now struggling to obtain adequate food, secure housing and basic necessities. 

Service managers told researchers welfare reform had financially punished a whole section of the population.

One said: “It’s the poverty and disadvantage that we see now. 

“It was always there, but it’s certainly exacerbated by the welfare reform over the past few years. 

“We see a lot more in terms of poverty and disadvantage in families. The rise of foodbanks here is massive. 

“Families use them on a regular basis and you can see that, families who come to us and are really struggling.”

The new report compares findings from research carried out with family support services in Scotland in 2013 and 2019.

It concludes that in the intervening period severe hardship has affected parents’ mental health and family relationships. 

This means those now being referred have more complex difficulties and greater needs.

Meanwhile, local authorities and other public bodies are continuing to face financial challenges. 

The research found evidence of family support services closing or being offered on a far more limited basis than had been the case in 2013.

NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland are now calling on the Scottish Government to press ahead, as a matter of urgency, with the recent Independent Care Review’s vision of making intensive family support available to all who need it.

The children’s charities also insisted the Government must “articulate a clear vision for family income in Scotland, and set out how – within the current levers available – it will ensure that all families have enough money to live with dignity”.

Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland head of service, said: “Our research reveals that families were facing destitution, isolation and mental health struggles before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

“We found that against a backdrop of years of austerity there was escalating need for help from families who were struggling with more complex problems, being met with less support than before.

“We know that adverse and traumatic experiences in childhood can have a profound impact on a person’s life. And it is crucial this unacceptable situation, now compounded by the Covid-19 crisis, is addressed with a matter of urgency.”

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “Supporting vulnerable families mitigates social inequality and improves children’s life opportunities.

“The coronavirus crisis provides a huge opportunity to make meaningful, sustainable, transformative change. 

“We need to harness the desire to do things differently, to reach out to families with a strengthened social safety net to prevent longer term difficulties developing in young people’s lives.”

A Scottish Government spokesman welcomed the report and said it has “continually called for action to reverse welfare cuts”.

He said ministers are prioritising the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, which will open for applications in November.

He added: “In addition as part of our £350 million community funding package to support those most in need during the pandemic, we have invested over £120m in supporting people with food, including ensuring free school meal provision over the summer, and increased support for housing.

“In addition we paid carers in receipt of Carer’s Allowance a further supplement this year.”