INVERNESS has welcomed in 2019 with more people than ever living in poverty and seeking help to survive.
City charities are reporting a growing demand for their assistance from people facing homelessness and debt,while politicians are also experiencing growing caseloads.
Inverness Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) currently sees an average of 25 people going through its doors each day while New Start Highland supported 638 struggling families to sustain their tenancies last year – well above a target figure of 580.
Alasdair Christie, manager of Inverness CAB, said it was difficult to be optimistic for the year ahead in the face of so many uncertainties including Brexit and the ongoing repercussions of Universal Credit.
Helping a broad range of clients including single homeless people, families facing severe food and fuel poverty and increasing numbers of working people struggling to cope with low wages, he said: “Over the years we have seen an ever-increasing rise in the number of people coming to the CAB in desperate situations, often very vulnerable people who simply cannot cope with day-to-day pressures caused through a lack of income or poor housing conditions.
“I see nothing on the horizon to indicate there will be a change in the demands on services provided by the CAB which has seen a reduction in its funding.
“The pressure on agencies like us is increasing as we move into 2019.”
Mr Christie said significant investment was needed from both the Scottish and UK governments to create real jobs and support a major house building programme.
James Dunbar, chief executive of New Start Highland, has also highlighted the ongoing challenges for the charity which relies on grants, contracts and trading income.
He said Brexit had diverted attention from the impact of UK government austerity measures while statistics showing an almost unprecedented level of employment masked the day-to-day challenges faced by many.
“Despite the positive messages appearing in the news, New Start Highland has seen an increase in demand for the support we offer to people in crisis,” he said.
“At the same time, a number of funders have turned the focus of their investment away from alleviating poverty in the Highlands.”
Inverness Foodstuff, which provides up to 120 hot meals a week at a drop-in centre at Ness Bank Church, has seen a steady rise in demand.
Treasurer Bob Glover said: “The problem is growing. It is not going away and I don’t think 2019 will get any better.”
Inverness SNP MP Drew Hendry said: “The most shocking aspect of the fact that poverty is rising here is that we have all seen it coming with the shambles of Universal Credit which has been chipping away at those most vulnerable to falling into poverty over nearly six years now, since the UK government decided to use the Highlands as its guinea pig.”
He claimed pleas by himself, charities, churches and others to halt the roll-out of the benefit had been ignored.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said her office had seen a steady increase in cases year on year, particularly involving health and welfare.
“Staff cutbacks at local authorities and shortages of professionals in health care are adding to the problem, in that there are fewer people available to provide the answers and possible solutions to the issues that are surfacing,” she said.