The urgency of Scotland gaining the ability to make its own welfare choices was underlined as new statistics show more people than ever are being provided help through the Scottish Welfare Fund.

The figures show that in July to September 2014, 52,400 applications were made to the Scottish Welfare Fund, a 33 per cent increase on the same quarter the previous year. During that period 25,800 Crisis Grants were awarded, with an average award of just over £70, predominantly for food and heating costs. This figure was 32 per cent higher than in the same quarter in the previous year.

Meanwhile 11,200 Community Care Grants were awarded in July to September 2014, 51 per cent more than in the same quarter the previous year.

The Scottish Government has allocated £33 million a year to the Scottish Welfare Fund, which was set up to fill the gap left by Westminster’s decision to halt Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants.

Commenting, Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson said:

“The fact that the Scottish Welfare Fund is providing more help than ever before shows that people are now more aware of the support available to them.

“However it is a scandal that in a country as wealthy as Scotland, there are still so many people living in poverty – with an increasing number of hard working families being forced to rely on food banks. I know from my constituency surgeries the hardship that is being inflicted on local families due to the nature the tough rules now being applied.

“The Scottish Welfare Fund is an important example of the kind of action the Scottish Government has taken using the powers it currently has to try and mitigate Westminster’s welfare cuts.

“But as long as welfare decisions remain at Westminster, Scotland’s least well off will remain at risk of further Westminster cuts.

“We need to be able to make our own welfare choices in Scotland, and the only way to secure these powers is by electing a strong team of SNP MPs in May.”

From April 2013, changes to the DWP Social Fund scheme meant that Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants stopped. These have been replaced by the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF), delivered by councils. The fund provides two types of grant:

• Crisis Grants to provide a safety net when someone experiences a disaster or emergency situation, such as a fire or flood and there is an immediate threat to health and safety.
• Community Care Grants to enable independent living or continued independent living and prevent the need to go into care. A CCG may also be able to help a family facing exceptional pressure.

To apply for a Crisis Grant or a Community Care Grant you must be 16 or older and on a low income.