More Scots are being forced to ask for emergency aid to help with the cost of feeding their families and heating their homes, with six council areas across the country seeing applications for crisis grants rise by 30% or more.
Since the Scottish Welfare Fund was set up by ministers in 2013, more than £173 million has been handed out to those in need to help with the cost of essential items.
A total of 306,305 low-income households have been helped by this cash over the years.
In April to June 2018 alone, £8.2 million in grants was awarded – 2% more than the same period in 2017.
Of that, £2.3 million went on crisis grants, which are given to help those on a low income deal with an emergency situation.
Across Scotland, the number of hard-up households applying for this form of help increased by 7% between April to June 2017 and the same period in 2018.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said she was “dismayed that so many people find themselves in the position of needing to access emergency help”.
In East Renfrewshire, applications were 52% higher, with five other authorities recording rises of 30% or more – Clackmannanshire (40%), Edinburgh (33%) the Western Isles (50%) Fife (44%) and South Ayrshire (30%).
Those in need received grants totalling almost £1.4 million to help with the cost of food in April to June 2018, 7% higher than was spent on this in the same period of 2017.
Meanwhile, grants to help with the cost of heating rose by 12% to more than £450,000 and awards for help with the cost of nappies, toiletries and other household products were up 27%, with these amounting to more than £37,000.
As well as the £2.3 million spent on crisis grants in April to June, community care grants totalling more than £5.8 million were awarded – with these being used to help families facing exceptional pressures with the cost of purchasing one-off items such as a cooker or washing machine.
Ms Somerville said: “It is a sad fact of life for many families that an unexpected expense can completely disrupt a carefully managed household budget.
“People should never have to face a choice between eating or heating.
“The Scottish Welfare Fund was created to provide a vital lifeline for people in times of need, allowing them to cover the everyday necessities.
“And while I am pleased that the fund has been able to help over 300,000 households across the country since its start, I am dismayed that so many people find themselves in the position of needing to access emergency help.”
More than a tenth (11%) of those applying for a crisis grant in April to June needed to help because of a delay in benefit payments.
Ms Somerville added: “As the UK Government persists with the rollout of Universal Credit, forcing more and more families into poverty, we are going to continue to see an increase in people needing such support.
“Scotland will have lost £3.7 billion in welfare benefits a year by the end of this decade.
“The Chancellor’s announcement of extra funding towards Universal Credit does not get close to mitigating the damaging impact of this policy and families will still have less money in their pockets and a minimum five-week delay before getting Universal Credit.
“Therefore we will not stop calling on the UK Government to halt the rollout of this fundamentally flawed system.
“We are spending over £125 million this year alone trying to allay the very worst effects of the UK Government’s harmful welfare cuts and protect those on low incomes.
“As a Government we will always do what we can to support hard pressed families who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to make ends meet.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system that discouraged people moving into work.
“We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on Universal Credit by £1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced to ensure work always pays, and introduced £1 billion to help people moving over from the old benefits system to Universal Credit.
“This is on top of the improvements we have already made – advances have increased to 100%, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move on to Universal Credit.
“We are spending around £90 billion a year on working-age benefits, including for those on low incomes.
“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, including to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”