As the immediate celebrations and commiserations start to fade, the ‘to-do’ list facing the new UK Government is coming into sharper focus. Time to realise the mission. This list is extensive, complex and no doubt a little intimidating. Yet it also presents real opportunity. To do things differently and, if not eliminate, at least reduce that harm that far too many are experiencing.

There are parallels here with adviser caseloads in the 59 CABs across Scotland. When faced with multiple competing priorities, all of which feel urgent and all of which have a real impact on real lives, how do you prioritise? You address the greatest harm first. Our evidence is sounding the alarm in two key areas: social security and energy.

Every day, advisers across the Citizens Advice network support people who will attest that the cost-of-living crisis is nowhere near over. Language and understanding of ‘cost of living’ has long been inadequate. It betrays the divergence of experience whereby existing inequality has been exacerbated and entrenched. For some, yes, it might be ‘look at the price of a bottle of olive oil!’. But it’s also parents going hungry to prioritise food for their children.

More than a decade of enduring austerity has had a profound impact on the UK Government’s social security provision, eroding any concept of a safety net. Gaping holes have formed. The two-child limit, the 5-week wait, the young parent penalty, deductions and sanctions – all of this amounts to destitution by design. Half of those seeking debt advice from Scottish CABs don’t have enough income to afford the essentials we all need. Reform of Universal Credit is overdue and essential. We must and can do better.

The CAB network increasingly acts as a backstop for policy and market failure. Alongside social security, energy consistently ranks among our most in-demand advice areas. 76% of people supported by our Extra Help Unit are considered as ‘self-disconnected’. For many people gas and electricity can be a 'luxury’ for the first week or two of the month, before going without until the next payday.

And let’s be clear what self-disconnection really means. The lights go off; heating stays off; the fridge goes off; food goes off. This is unacceptable and unjust.

After the respite of falling prices, bills are forecast to increase in October. And then there’s the debt. On average, CAB debt clients have £2,300 of energy arrears. This soars to over £3,000 in remote or rural communities. These levels of debt demonstrate that the problem is rooted within markets, not with people. That’s why we have been advocating for an affordable social tariff as well as mass debt write-off. We must and can do better.

Despite this context, the Citizens Advice network across Scotland secures change. Our advisers helped over 187,000 people in 2022-23, unlocking £142.3 million in local communities. That is advice that changes lives, but also provides unique insight. We see things that others don’t – and we see what needs to change.

Ours is a story of compassion and justice: compassion now to deliver immediate support, and justice to help secure the structural change needed.

CAS is ready to work with this new UK Government to deliver better outcomes for people. Because we must and can do better. We stand ready to be part of that mission.

David Hilferty is Citizens Advice Scotland’s Director of Impact