OVER the last 81 years, the Citizens Advice Bureau has established itself as a dependable institution across Scotland and across the UK. Currently there are 60 Citizens Advice Bureaux operating in Scotland, providing free advice to the general public in areas such as claiming benefits, handling debt and finances, housing, work related issues and more.
The first Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland opened in Glasgow around 1939, when Citizens Advice was first established in the UK. The bureau opened its doors to the public as war was beginning to affect every aspect of their lives, offering advice on how to respond to being bombed out, tracking down relatives whose homes had been destroyed, rationing, and so forth. Following this, the CAB held the hands of many people as war came to an end and society found itself with a whole host of new issues revolving around rebuilding lives.
Today, Citizens Advice Scotland faces serious threat. At the end of August, Glasgow City Council recommended that funding for several local charities and third sector organisations, including Citizens Advice, should be cut. The cuts would see five of the eight existing Citizens Advice Bureaux serving Glasgow and its surrounding areas left without sufficient funding.
Many people have taken to the streets in past weeks to raise concern about these bureaux being at risk of having to close their doors. Glasgow City Council recognised this concern to an extent. On September 3, city councillors announced plans for a £4million ‘transitionary fund’ to support the groups affected by funding cuts. However, since the announcement of this transitionary fund, there has been no further information provided on specifically how this funding will be used. The fund is not nearly enough to keep the five Citizens Advice Bureaux at risk running, and will certainly not go far enough to support the other groups affected by funding cuts alongside the CAB.
While Glasgow City Council may claim this gesture is a solution to the cuts, it simply is not enough. Currently, the five Citizens Advice Bureaux at risk do not know whether or not they will be able to keep their doors open, whether they will be able to continue serving their communities, or whether the staff themselves have jobs.
In 2018/19, Citizens Advice Scotland advised over 272,500 clients, assisted clients in completing nearly 40,000 benefit forms, helped clients access over £131 million, and so much more. This service is invaluable to the people of Scotland, and more specifically to the people of Glasgow.
In June this year, as lockdown hit the labour market, the Office for National Statistics reported that Scotland’s unemployment rate had become the highest in the UK. Additionally, the first month of lockdown saw 110,000 people in Scotland apply for Universal Credit, compared to just 20,000 people in the same month in 2019. During this time of increased demand for Universal Credit, the Scottish Government and Citizens Advice launched a campaign to raise awareness of the financial support available to people across the country.
In the coming months, more people will require the help and resources provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau than ever before, and their services will undoubtedly help to rebuild the lives of many as we emerge from the most significant crisis of our time.
Now is not the time for funding to be cut for Citizens Advice Bureaux, keeping these afloat is absolutely a priority. Glasgow City Council’s proposed transitionary fund is not enough to save Glasgow’s CABs, and we cannot allow this funding crisis to be pushed to the side.
Mairi Hughes is a Journalist and Creative Writer