A fund set up to help poorer Scots at times of crisis had only spent a third of the record cash sum allocated to it halfway through the financial year, new figures have revealed.
The Scottish Government has published the latest details of grants awarded by the Scottish Welfare Fund.
These revealed that while it has a total of £59.5 million available for 2020-21, by the end of September 2020 only £18.9 million of this – some 32% of the cash available – had been spent.
It comes as applications for help from the fund – which is administered by councils – continued to be higher than in 2019-20.
In the period July to September 79,465 applications for financial help were made.
Most of these were for crisis grants, which are paid out to cash-strapped Scots in an emergency to help with basic expenses such as the costs of heating and eating.
There were 58,895 applications made – 14% more than in July to September 2019, with 38,565 people receiving help, an increase of 16% on the same time last year.
They received a total of £3.8 million – which was just over a fifth (21%) higher than expenditure in this area had been 12 months ago.
It comes after demand for crisis grants peaked in April 2020 – the first full month that Scotland was in coronavirus lockdown.
Applications for help in that month were 81% higher than in April 2019, with the figures showing that demand decreased after this, before rising again in August.
Compared to the previous year, demand for crisis grants was higher in July, August and September, with applications for these months, up by 12%, 9% and 22% respectively.
The period July to September 2020 also saw 20,570 applications for community care grants, which are used to help people live independently in the community.
Councils awarded help in 10,630 cases, with the number of grants 2% down on July to September 2019, although spending on the grants increased by 4% over the year to at £6.3 million.
The latest spending means that from the time the Scottish Welfare Fund was established on April 1 2013 until September 2020, a total of 403,510 individual households have received help, with this totalling £256.6 million.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the Scottish Government had “taken unprecedented action to support people during the pandemic”, including “significantly increasing” cash in the Scottish Welfare Fund.
She added: “It is for local authorities to determine whether to make an award.
“Between March and November, local authorities received over 200,000 applications for crisis grants, 33% more than the same period last year. They spent £13.7 million to support those applicants, 47% more than the same period last year.
“In addition to increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund, we have spent more than £130 million to support food security, and made £20 million of flexible funding available to local authorities to tackle financial insecurity over the winter period.
“Local authorities can use these funds to top up their allocations for the Scottish Welfare Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments and to support people unable to afford essentials such as food and energy. In doing so, we hope this will result in fewer people reaching crisis point and needing support from the Welfare Fund.”