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Cost of living

10 cold, hard facts: Low-income Scottish families grow weary after another winter of the cost of living crisis

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1. Going without the essentials

This spring, 7 in 10 people in Scotland reported that they had cut back on one or more essential over the last six months. This means that they were cutting back spending on food, heating and for some, skipping meals. This has increased from 65% since we last ran this survey in summer 2022.

2. This situation is dire, yet for some families it’s even worse

Between summer 2022 and spring 2023 some families were more likely to have had to cut back on one or more essential, including around four in five single parents, large families and low-income households. The situation for large families has worsened with dramatic speed, with four out of five parents now reporting that they have cut back on an essential, compared to two out of three parents in summer 2022.

7 in 10 of all families in Scotland have had to go without one or more essentials...

8 in 10
single parents have gone without essentials
8 in 10
large families have gone without essentials
8 in 10
low income households have gone without essentials

3. Left in the cold

Left in the cold. In summer 2022, 44% of families were already not heating their home as much as was needed. In a winter that included the coldest December in over a decade, over half of households in Scotland had not heated their home as much as they needed. And 3 in 20 had both not heated their home and skipped or cut down the size of meals.

4. Going hungry

Nearly one in three low-income families had skipped or cut down the size of meals, and nearly 3 in 20 low-income families have accessed a foodbank due to rising costs. Trussell Trust’s recent annual food banks statistics show soaring use in Scotland since the crisis began, particularly over the winter months. They provided 260,000 emergency food parcels between April 2022 and March 2023, a rise of 30% compared to 2021/22 and 50% compared to 2017/18. They also saw an increase in new referrals to their foodbanks.

[my child] has an iron deficiency because she was a premature baby so I have to keep up with the rising cost and it is so expensive […] even just green vegetables are stupidly expensive and then trying to get meat in, my food shop has over doubled […] we cut back on the amount of meat and then I can see that [my child] is getting sick again.

Alex, Fife

5. Falling behind

The number of low-income families in arrears has also grown, increasing from just over one in four low-income families to nearly two in five being behind on one or more bills. In spring 2023, 3 in 20 low-income families were behind on an electric or gas bill, even though nearly two in three of these families were not heating their home as much as needed to try and make ends meet.

6. No safety net for low-income families

Between summer 2022 and spring 2023, fewer and fewer low-income families had savings to fall back on. The proportion of low-income households with no savings at all has risen from four in six to over four in five. It has also left low-incomes families without a safety net to cover rising or unexpected bills. Only one in three low-income families (36%) would be able to cover an unexpected bill of £200 with their own money without cutting back on essentials, and nearly one in four (23%) would be unable to pay.

7. Feeling vulnerable as prices rise

It is no wonder that low-income families feel more financially insecure now than in summer 2022, with two in five reporting they feel very financially insecure compared to around one in three in summer 2022. Families with less to fall back on are also feeling the pressure, with two in five people in families with no savings feeling very financially insecure.

8. Doing all they can to make ends meet

While families have cut back on the essentials to reduce costs, they have also tried to increase their incomes. Two in six people in Scotland have tried to increase their income via work, for example, increasing hours or getting an additional job. This increases to nearly two in five low-income families. For some families work will not be enough to support them as costs rise, while other people are unable to work, for example, due to ill-health, disability or caring responsibilities. Over one in four low-income families have also tried to increase their income by applying for benefits or a crisis grant.

Me personally, we made lots of adjustments at our home this year in preparation for winter. […] and when the bills come, it's really not made any difference so I’d hate to think what my bills would have been if I’d continued on as normal […] even with all those adjustments and effort, we’re still over double what we were a year ago.

Andrew, Dundee 

9. Government intervention can support low-income families

The Scottish Government introduced the Scottish Child Payment to help low-income families with children get out of poverty. We found that two in three parents that received the Scottish Child Payment in spring 2023 reported the payment had made them feel more financially secure. This shows the impact that large-scale government policies can have on low-income families at a time when financial insecurity is very high, providing the safety net they need. However, they must rise to the scale of the challenge as many more struggle with increasing costs.

There is a limit to how much you can cut out, especially during the winter […] it’s quite a lot of sacrifice […] everything went up with it, the council tax went up, the bus pass went up, transport went up so it’s like government is giving it to you from the right hand and is taking it away from you from the left hand […] the fight for an increase in salary is not much because we just use the increase to pay our bills […] so families are still in poverty and it’s not much different.

Grace, Glasgow

10. The economy must change

The majority of people in Scotland don't think the current economy works in a fair way but do think it’s possible to create an economy that works in the interests of all. Seven in ten think that the economy currently acts to further disadvantage poor people and that it mainly benefits the wealthy. We also found that people in Scotland, irrelevant of income, share the view that the economy could work for all people, rich or poor, but is not.

Leftovers from breakfast on a plate.

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