Advice services have reported a “massive increase” in Renfrewshire residents struggling to find cash to afford food and heat.
Bosses at Renfrewshire’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau say people are struggling to afford “the essentials” amidst the worst cost of living crisis faced in the modern day.
And they say pensioners, amongst those relying on a fixed low income, are amongst the hardest hit.
Paisley Advice workers told how one pensioner, who suffers from health conditions made worse by cold, had been forced to go without heating to make ends meet.
It comes as even Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned yesterday that the UK is in a “bad situation” and blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for fueling global food price increases which he warned could prove “apocalyptic”.
Speaking to MPs in the Commons, the banking boss warned of a “very big income shock” looming for households and admitted he feels “helpless” in the face of rocketing inflation – which is at its’ highest rate for 30 years amidst expectations it will reach double figures before the end of the year.
Nicola Matheson, Funding and Service Development Officer at Paisley CAB confirmed residents are feeling the pressure, saying: “The cost-of-living crisis is impacting everyone across Renfrewshire, and it’s not just energy bills, it’s the price of everything.”
A March report by the Citizens Advice network shows “an increase in demand for advice across the network”, say bosses, “highlighting the growing concern around the cost of living”.
Added Nicola: “Unfortunately, page views for online advice around food banks and crisis support is now almost double that of March 2021.
“We are seeing a massive increase in people contacting us who are concerned about money and being able to afford the essentials such as food and utilities. “Our advisers are assisting clients with fuel debts by helping them to apply for energy grants in addition to providing them with advice from qualified money advisers about their financial circumstances and debt relief options. We also help clients to maximize their income by making sure they are receiving all the support they are entitled to.”
A boom in people needing help means the Paisley agency has offered advice to 1,873 clients on debt, benefits and finance and available charitable support, since March.
Nicola also told how it isn’t bad budgeting which is fueling the rise in work for the agency, saying: “With energy prices having increased on average by 54 per cent since April and social security benefits increasing by only three per cent, it’s no surprise that people are struggling.
“We want to be clear, this isn’t a budgeting issue, our clients are simply unable to afford their essential expenditure.”
She also told how those struggling to get by on a pension are amongst the hardest hit, telling how one OAP had contacted them “because he was struggling with his increasing outgoings compared to his fixed income”.
Nicola told how the man’s energy bills had “doubled” in recent months and “despite his health conditions which are exacerbated by the cold he was finding himself unable to afford heating his home.”
Her words echo the concerns of community leader Terry McTernan, who told the Express in February: ““My genuine concern is that people are going to die over this.
“We live in the West of Scotland, not the Costa Del Sol. People need to put their heating on.”
The UK Government has come under fire for not doing enough to tackle soaring costs which have put the squeeze on household budgets.
Criticism intensified after last week’s much-anticipated Queen’s Speech – which outlines the Government’s legislative priorities for the year – failed to make meaningful inroads in helping the public through the crisis.
It was branded a “lost opportunity” by Nats’ Renfrewshire MP Gavin Newlands.
The hit out at the Tory government once again this week, telling the Express: “Clearly the current energy market rules don’t work. Rises of over 50 per cent are not normal, and the job of government and the regulators should be to iron out those abnormalities and ensure any price rises are proportionate and broadly affordable.Too often OFGEM appears to be a regulator for industry rather than for consumers and the current state of the energy market shows how badly this approach is affecting society.
“Forcing people into energy debt by taking money off this year’s bills to add to the next five years’ worth isn’t just economically illiterate, it does nothing to tackle the root causes of fuel poverty and nothing to fundamentally change the rules under which energy companies are able to jack prices up so steeply.”
The Westminster-based Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP added: ““The wasted years of UK Government energy policy where investing and developing renewables was completely secondary to the ‘dash for gas’ they undertook were short-sighted and have exposed millions of households to the sharp end of the worst cost of living crisis in 50 years.It’s shameful that in an energy-rich country like Scotland, exporting energy through the year, hundreds of thousands of households are being plunged into fuel poverty.
“The Chancellor and Prime Minister appear to have been too busy partying in Downing Street and dealing with the police investigations than to come up with a real strategy to tackle the cost of living catastrophe, and we now have UK Ministers tell the public to work longer hours to put food on the table or heat their homes.
“That is an utter disgrace, and the sooner the UK no longer determines our economic and energy policies here in Scotland, with the real powers of independence, the better.”
Advisors at Renfrewshire CAB provide free, impartial and confidential advice to help households. Appointments can be made by phoning 0141 889 2121 or by visiting our website www.renfrewshirecab.org.uk
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.