Spending on the Scottish Welfare Fund in Scottish Borders has dropped by 19 per cent, despite a five per cent increase in total applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund in the region between April and June.

Between April and June, there were 810 applications, up from 770 in the same period in 2019. However, the total expenditure on the Scottish Welfare Fund was down by £29,103 (from £154,598 in 2019 to £125,495 in 2020), according to figures released last week.

The Scottish Government said “lower overall expenditure was driven largely by lower Community Care Grant expenditure, due to lower demand, acceptance rates and average award value due to COVID-19.”

The Community Care Grant is a payment disbursed by councils to support people leaving care or imprisonment.

But the Poverty and Inequality Commission has suggested that the scheme is not adequately publicised. The Commission has called for “minimum requirements around publicising of the fund and clear communication of its purpose; training and awareness of staff to ensure potential applicants are treated with dignity and respect; and accessibility and ease of applying for the fund”.

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said: “The Covid-19 pandemic started out as a health crisis but as the months have gone by and the virus continues to impact all our lives, it has also turned into a terrible economic crisis too.

“People across the Scottish Borders are suffering serious economic hardship as a direct result of this pandemic and those who were already experiencing financial problems have been pushed even further into hardship.

“The numbers of people in our region applying for money from the Scottish Welfare Fund have risen compared to the same period last year and that is unsurprising. But at a time when personal and family finances are under immense pressure, it is astonishing that the Scottish Government is suggesting that demand for Community Care Grants has fallen.

“The Scottish Government should listen to the Poverty and Inequality Commission and set minimum standards for publicising the fund to make it easily accessible to applicants and then ensure that those applying get the level of grant they need.”

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