Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has released a new report detailing the breadth and depth of the cost of living problem, with skyrocketing energy bills fuelling “frightening” demand for food insecurity advice.
The charity publishes a quarterly cost of living report examining the need for advice. In more than one in ten cases involving utilities, the client also requested assistance with food insecurity, such as a referral to a food bank.
Comparing the first quarter of the current fiscal year to the same period of the previous fiscal year, the data reveals growing interest in online assistance in energy-related sectors such as:
- “Grants and benefits to help pay energy bills” up 122%
- “Struggling to pay energy bills” up 120%
- “Can’t afford to top up prepayment meter” up 92%
Simultaneously, web page views related to cost of living difficulties have surged dramatically, with “Get help with bills” growing 122%.
The page “Struggling with living costs” has experienced a 67% rise in page views, while “Food banks and other crisis aid” has seen a 33% increase in page views.
Last year, 26% of all utility advice provided by the CAB network was connected to cost of living or income crisis measures. In the first quarter of this year, that percentage increased to 35%.
In 2012, 36% of financial and charity support advice consisted of referrals to food banks or shopping vouchers. In the first quarter of this year, this increased to 45%.
The survey also analyses demand across demographics and finds that council rented tenants and those who are unemployed or unable to work are more likely than other groups to seek guidance over the expense of living.
The charity warns that this increasing demand is occurring prior to the impact of a “toxic cocktail” this winter, which includes an increase in the energy price cap, rising inflation, and higher borrowing rates.
Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Derek Mitchell said: “The Citizens Advice network gives a wraparound service when people come to us for advice because people have complex problems and need help with multiple issues.
“Our data tracks the patterns and connections between the advice we are giving out and the problems society faces. What we are seeing is frankly frightening.
“More than one in every ten people seeking help with an energy issue also requires help with food insecurity.
“Let’s be absolutely clear what that means – some people face the prospect of freezing or starving this winter.
“This crisis is affecting everyone, but some people are especially at risk – our data shows higher demand for advice from council tenants, those out of work and those unable to work.
“That to me suggests broad support alone will not be enough – there needs to be targeted help for the vulnerable.
“We are seeing these issues before a toxic cocktail this winter of soaring energy bills, growing inflation and higher interest rates.
“People are hanging on by their finger tips and it’s the summer – how are they expected to cope when the temperature drops and bills rise?
“CABs are here for people during this crisis. We helped 171,000 people last year and a further 2.5 million checked our online advice.
“We are for everyone regardless of background or circumstance and it’s so important people understand we are here for them with free, confidential and impartial advice. We don’t judge, we just help.
“That help though, needs to be back up by policymakers delivering the kind or urgent and significant policy interventions to help people.
“Make no mistake, this is a challenge on a scale of the 2008 financial crisis or the 2020 pandemic, and will require solutions to match that.”