A £350 million support fund to help those left struggling in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak has been announced by the Scottish Government.
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell revealed councils will receive almost £100 million to help fund their response to the pandemic, with ministers to set up an additional £70 million Food Fund.
This will be used to “support households who may be worried about accessing food whether due to an income drop or self-isolating”, Ms Campbell said.
Unveiling the Scottish Government’s package of measures, she told MSPs: “This is most definitely our hour of need.”
She called on the UK Government to do more to help the needy, saying the three-month mortgage break homeowners have been offered should be upped to six months.
Ms Campbell urged the Tories at Westminster to make changes to the benefit system and increase the rate of statutory sick pay.
“Now would be a good time for them to reconsider their approach to welfare and to look to increase child benefit, increase the levels of sick pay and increase Universal Credit,” she said.
As part of this she urged the UK Government to scrap the two-child cap on some welfare payments, saying: “These are not normal times and we would urge them to reassess these policies, given the unprecedented challenge we face.”
Ms Campbell said the Scottish Government will change the law covering private-sector rents, which currently allow landlords to evict a tenant if they are in arrears for at least three months in a row – with this to be extended to six months.
It is also writing to housing associations and council landlords, urging them to take a flexible approach to those struggling to pay their bills during the crisis.
“We can’t have people being made – or at risk of being made – homeless at this difficult time,” Ms Campbell said.
“This is a time for all landlords, whether in social or private sector, to be flexible and adaptable to their tenants at a time of national crisis and possibly personal crisis.”
Councils will get £50 million that is coming to Scotland as a result of the hardship fund set up by the UK Government as well as an extra £45 million for the Scottish Welfare Fund, which pays out crisis grants, more than doubling the £35.5 million it had been due to receive this year.
As well as its £70 million Food Fund, the Scottish Government will set up a £50 million Well-being Fund to help charities and others who are working with vulnerable people, such as the homeless and those suffering from fuel poverty.
A new Supporting Communities Fund will get £40 million to “underpin the inspiring work that is already under way in our neighbourhoods and communities that will prove essential to our nation’s resistance”, Ms Campbell said.
A total of £50 million has been earmarked for increased spending on benefit payments that are delivered in Scotland and for a rise in the council tax reduction scheme.
There will also be £20 million for a Third Sector Resilience Fund, to help voluntary organisations, with a further £25 million to be kept in reserve, allowing a “swift and flexible responses to rapidly changing circumstances”.
Ms Campbell said: “This pandemic will disrupt lives like never before and cause financial hardship and negatively impact on our well-being.
“Be assured, however, that protecting and supporting people during these unparalleled times is the absolute focus of this Government.”
Citizens Advice Scotland chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “These are welcome measures from the Scottish Government which could provide a lifeline for people facing a crisis of income during the coronavirus outbreak.”