Cost of living crisis: Fife’s urgent response to ‘Dickensian times’

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At a recent emergency summit in Leven, the Church of Scotland spoke of people being "catapulted into Dickensian times and conditions” - a comparison which was a wake-up moment for many.

The pandemic and a cost of living crisis have fundamentally changed people’s lives.

Families who were just coping during the former are now tipping over the edge as energy bills and food prices soar.

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And the fear among many frontline agencies is that the worst is yet to come this autumn and winter.

Councillor David Ross, leader of Fife CouncilCouncillor David Ross, leader of Fife Council
Councillor David Ross, leader of Fife Council

The raft of plans unveiled last week by Fife Council simply shone spotlight on the scale of the issue as people across the Kingdom face the toughest of times.

The local authority committed itself to doing all it could to help - with a plea to people not to suffer in silence, but to get the support they are entitled to.

But it has also warned it can’t soldier all the costs involved, and said more intervention from the UK and Scottish Governments was essential for Fife to continue its package of support.

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It is already providing over £5m of additional support for people,and last week agreed a number of measures, including providing warm spaces where people can go over the winter and a £50 ‘warm coat’ supplement to the school uniform grants. That will cost the authority an estimated £870,000.

That decision was hailed “a lifeline” for many pupils who go to school without a coat.

Councillor James Calder, Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: "This new increase will be a lifeline for many in this winter where we face a grave cost of living crisis.

“It is important the council does as much as possible to help people through what is looking to be a financially dreadful winter for many.”

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Foodbanks are under increasing pressure (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)Foodbanks are under increasing pressure (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)
Foodbanks are under increasing pressure (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

Councillor Aude Boubaker-Calder, the party’s education spokesman, added: “This is going to help ensure that pupils from the lowest income families will not go cold this winter when outside. I am delighted that the Council is acting to protect them.”

The local authority’s support will also continue to support foodbanks and pantries who are battling a drop in donations, provide hardship grants and benefits advice; and provide winter warmer packs for people struggling with fuel poverty.

And 2023-24 could see a full or partial freeze on Council Tax and rent rises.


Cllr Ross said: “That may or may not be possible and depends on the money we get from the Scottish Government, but it is something we will give serious consideration to and we have asked officers to examine the financial feasibility of that move in more detail.”

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He continued: “We have also allocated £10m as a Community Recovery Fund , devolved to our local areas. This will help local communities to recover and rebuild from the pandemic as well as providing local funding to help tackle the cost of living crisis.”

The council’s plans come on the back of a freeport which revealed that early indications suggest that Fifers who may have been managing well or have been just about managing, are starting to tip into crisis - and that’s before the onset of winter.

Four out of five low-income households expected to be in fuel poverty in the new year, particularly large families, lone parents and pensioner couples.

Out of school, free after school clubs and activities are now available in most schools, and Café Inc: supplied 106,000 meals this summer alone.

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There is more help coming for foodbanks too, while rising energy bills have prompted officers to look at opening up warm spaces - churches and other buildings - for people to use during the day

A small grant scheme is proposed to help providers with costs and to develop support activities, social interaction and advice and guidance.

There is also a commitment to provide at least 1000 winter warmer packs which include essential warm clothing and insulated drinks containers

Councillor David Alexander also urged the committee to look at the work done at Levenmouth Academy which has “eliminated the cost of the school day” by meeting school uniform costs

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Each area committee is to get £1m, and it will decide how best it should be allocated locally.

The council is also looking at the impact the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has had on people’s mental health, particularly among young people, - and how best to offer support.

The overall package of support is huge, but Cllr Ross warned: “It is clear to everyone the council cannot do it all on its own, and mitigate in full the impact of the cost of living crisis many people are facing - but we have to do what we can.

“We also need to be flexible and recognise things will develop over the autumn and winter months and we may need to come back and adjust our approach - and we will do that.

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If there are big pressures on hardship funds, we are prepared to address that with additional funding.

We also need to look at longer term at things we’re not quite ready to do just now or will have considerable implication, such as extending free school meals.”

The work going on at Fife House and the Town House in Kirkcaldy - it has been for some time - will continue throughout the coming months as the full scale of the crisis starts to be seen.

Councillor Altany Craik warned: “This will be the hardest winter for people who have never needed benefit support before, so it is key we reach them.”