3. To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting local authorities to deliver relief for residents at risk of poverty during the cost of living crisis and in light of rising energy costs. (S6O-01526)
We are working with local authority partners to support people who are facing the cost of living crisis. Through the emergency budget review, we have taken a number of actions, including allocating almost £20 million of additional funding to double the December Scottish child payment bridging payment to £260, which will benefit around 145,000 eligible children.
We are making up to £86.6 million available for discretionary housing payments, thereby mitigating the United Kingdom Government’s unfair bedroom tax and benefit cap, and we are giving local authorities more flexibility to support people with energy bills.
We are also providing more than £260 million to support council employee pay rises, which especially benefits lower-paid workers.
In July this year, concerned with the looming energy crisis, I met local churches to discuss the idea of providing warm welcome spaces for the winter. I am glad to see that the idea is being rolled out throughout churches in Ayr, Prestwick and Troon.
I note that, during these difficult times, local authorities are putting in place measures to assist local communities. Scottish National Party-run North Ayrshire Council has launched a massive £450,000 fund to help out residents during the cost of living crisis. Does the minster agree that all councils in Scotland should take similar steps?
I know that all councils are considering these matters. Many local authorities are working to help people with the cost of living crisis using their own resources and powers. That includes exploring the establishment of warm spaces as well as the fund that North Ayrshire Council has set up. If I recall correctly, Glasgow City Council has created a £3 million fund, including £1 million for fuel top-up cards. Midlothian Council has put £29,000 into a heat and eat fund to help families that are not eligible for Scottish welfare fund support. Falkirk Council has allocated more than £500,000 for its household support fund, which has provided cash-first support to 1,000 households since September 2022. A number of actions are taking place, and that symbolises how we all need to work together during the cost of living crisis to support people.
The minister will be aware that one of the best ways to help people is to get them appropriate social security benefits. Social Security Scotland announced yesterday that for four days next week it will be taking no online applications and people will not be able to apply for benefits during that period. Does the minister think that is that acceptable? What measures will he take to make sure that my constituents, and his, are not adversely affected by that?
Social Security Scotland is providing more benefits to people in Scotland than are available elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The reason why Social Security Scotland is having to pause applications that are made electronically through its systems during the period stipulated by Mr Balfour is because there are system upgrades and processes that need to be run through in order to deliver the really significant intervention, on Monday 14 November, of our Scottish child payment, which is available only in Scotland, going up to £25 per week per child for eligible children and being extended to eligible children who are under 16. That intervention will take the possible take-up of the benefit from around 100,000 children to an eligibility figure of 400,000.
We are focused on running really good systems and doing things correctly. That involves making sure that the information technology and operational systems in
Social Security Scotland are all running as they need to be for Monday 14 November and will help all the people that they can.
A Scottish Public Services Ombudsman report has found
“a 36.7% increase in Scottish Welfare Fund independent review applications received from the previous year”.
When will the minister be able to tell us about the review of the Scottish welfare fund, and when will the review be complete?
I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy and other members for their interest in this important area. The Scottish welfare fund is an important aspect of how we help people every year, but especially this year. I will be updating the committee very shortly on that review—I look forward to doing so.