An independent advice service in Inverness has seen a huge increase in demand for help as the cost of living crisis worsens.
Staff and volunteers at Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureau must prioritize the most urgent cases as they were working at full capacity prior to the current situation.
And more and more people are now being referred to local food banks due to the combined financial crisis of rising fuel prices, high inflation and rising interest rates.
Alasdair Christie, chief executive and managing director of the organization, said the cost of living crisis was a combination of things.
“It started overall with people being badly hit by the energy price hikes and we expect that to continue because as we all know the price is going to rise in October and January to levels totally unaffordable for many people,” he said.
“We are also seeing people struggling with their mortgages because of course interest rates are going up and fixed rate deals may be coming to an end. We see people who are in arrears with their mortgages. »
He said people had to make tough choices. “We are seeing people starting to struggle – are they buying food or paying for energy or paying their rent or their mortgage?” he said.
“We see people making really tough decisions that impact their financial situation, their mental health and their well-being.”
And he feared that, if the situation continued, there would be an increase in the number of people taking out payday loans and passbook loans – where their car is the collateral for the loan.
He said: “We are going to start seeing vampire-like lending institutions – bleeding people with high interest rates. Which is heaping more and more misery on people who are overwhelmed and struggling.
Mr Christie said it was ‘a real concern’ and they were getting more and more calls.
“We are seeing a change in the types of issues and we need to prioritize and do more urgent firefighting – the urgency and complexity has increased dramatically and we need to turn people away who may not have had complaints too serious that they wanted to help,” he said.
He confirmed that more people are relying on food banks, adding: “We are referring more people to food banks than we have before.
“Food banks are under enormous pressure and many churches, mosques and other religious organizations in the city are doing their part to help people, as are other organisations.
“It really is a crisis and it is impacting people’s lives.”
Drew Hendry, SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said: “We are no longer talking about the coming energy crisis; people are living it now, and many just don’t know where to turn – and it’s summer. Every day voters contact us to say they have nothing else to give – they are terrified and have no one to turn to.
“We all understand that the energy crisis is a global problem, but governments choose how they react to these crises.
“Governments across Europe and beyond are stepping up to protect their citizens from skyrocketing bills. However, this Conservative government has chosen to turn its back, offering only derisory support.
“We need an emergency budget and adequate household support, and we needed it months ago. If they don’t want to help support Scottish families, they should delegate powers to the Scottish government so they can intervene.
Fergus Ewing, the SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn, said: “High energy costs need to prompt a much stronger response from the UK government.
“People will need a lot more help paying their fuel bills this winter. The level of bills is now out of control and the result of years of failing energy policies.
“The root cause of exorbitant prices, however, now and for the foreseeable future, is underinvestment in replacing depleted oil and gas fields with new capacity.
“The result is that supply cannot keep pace with global demand, which increases as the world’s population grows.
“There has also been a complete failure over the past decade to harness the enormous renewable potential of the Highlands.”
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