To finish off celebrating Volunteer’s Week earlier this month, Dumbarton Citizens@ Advice CEO, Joe McCormack, was delighted to present  valued volunteer, Shona, with a certificate to acknowledge completion of the Adviser Training Programme.  Joe said: “Congratulations Shona and thank you for giving us your time. Without volunteers like you, we could not operate a service in West Dunbartonshire.”

By Niall Christie

Demand for food bank advice across the Citizens Advice network, which includes West Dunbartonshire and Argyll,  increased by 11 per cent in the year to April 2023, new data from Citizens Advice Scotland has revealed.

The charity’s April 2023 data report also found that gas and electricity utilities advice increased by 13 per cent in the past year, finance and charitable Support advice by 16 per cent, and housing advice by 11 per cent.

Advice on local authority rent arrears increased by 56 per cent and social housing rent arrears by 46 per cent, suggesting an increase in need for advice around certain types of debt.

Across online advice pages, there were 206,230 users – 77 per cent of which were new. 

From April 2022 to April 2023 there was an 18 per cent increase in views of debt and money advice pages, and a 15 per cent increase in benefits page views.

CAS warned of a “direct link” between higher energy prices and food inflation and increased demand for food insecurity advice, and called on policymakers to not be fooled into thinking a lower energy price cap and inflation falling means the crisis is coming to an end.

The charity’s social justice spokesperson, David Hilferty, said: “Our April data shows the impact the cost-of-living crisis has had in the past year, with advice around utilities, housing and food insecurity all up significantly.

“It is essential that policymakers don’t view headlines about inflation and the energy price cap falling and think that this crisis is over.

“CABs are on the frontline of this crisis and what they see is a direct link between high energy bills coming through the letterbox and empty cupboards in the kitchen.

“Many people will have been forced into debt during this crisis and are now trapped in a vicious cycle – their incomes couldn’t match the cost of their bills so they went into debt to pay the essentials and now their income is reduced further by debt repayments.

“April saw inflation linked increases to social security finally kick in, meanwhile we saw the first of the government’s cost of living payments delivered to people at the end of the month, but that was after a long cold winter where many people’s financial resilience had been almost wiped out.

“Citizens Advice Scotland would propose three things policymakers could do to support people – increase the value of social security, a social tariff in the energy market for those on low incomes, and better funding for advice services like CABs that help people with energy and financial problems.

“CABs deliver real results for people, with the average financial gain for those who saw one after seeking advice last year being £4,200.”

Top picture: Dame Jackie Baillie checks out one of many local food banks.

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