DEMAND for food parcels in the islands is likely to have increased by 50 per cent on last year once Christmas parcels have been distributed, according to the local Salvation Army branch.
Its community assistant David Grieve said 340 food parcels had already been dished out by the end of November, and the number for 2015 is “likely to be well over 400”. That compares to 283 food parcels in the whole of 2014.
While UK Chancellor George Osborne has backed out of his controversial plans to cut working tax credits – which would have left hundreds of hard-up Shetland families further out of pocket – Grieve said welfare reforms were still having a major impact.
“Much of this increased demand appears to be the result of the introduction of the Universal Credit system where clients may now wait for six weeks to receive their first payment and yet are expected to live with no income during that time,” Grieve said.
Meanwhile the number of youngsters on the Salvation Army’s Lerwick branch’s list to receive Christmas gifts is currently 66 – compared to 41 children and young people last year.
Lerwick Citizens’ Advice Bureau manager Karen Eunson said it was a “great relief” to families that cuts to tax credits did not go through.
“However it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the government made a manifesto pledge to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget and they are continuing with this programme of cuts to social security benefits,” she said.
That includes a four-year freeze on the income people receive in benefits which is “going to put real pressure on family budgets, especially in a place like Shetland where the cost of living – food, energy, transport and housing costs – are already so high”.
“More folk are going to be forced to cut back on essentials – not just extras,” Eunson said. “More households are going to be left vulnerable to crisis with an increased likelihood of falling into debt if there is no spare money to deal with emergencies such as illness or needing to replace household goods.”
Stressing that CAB offers a “free, confidential and impartial” service to those with money worries, Eunson added that the service was dealing with increasingly complex cases and was training its staff and volunteers according.
“We are anticipating increased demand for advice on benefits, debt and housing and we would encourage anyone who is concerned about their situation to come and see us,” she said.
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