Living at the Sharp End – CAB clients in crisis

Date: 13th July 2016
Category: Disability, Basic Health and Welfare

This report, 'Living at the Sharp End: CAB clients in crisis', looks in detail at the causes of gaps in income, particularly with regards to the benefits system; the impact of gaps in income on CAB clients; and the adequacy of existing crisis assistance provided by statutory agencies.

On-going analysis of CAB case evidence over the last four years has shown that more and more bureaux clients are experiencing periods of no income, and are unable to afford essentials including food, gas and electricity to heat their homes, as well as priority payments such as rent. More worryingly still are the number of clients who present at bureaux having not eaten in a number of days.

Based on the findings of this research, the report recommends changes that could increase people's resilience to income shocks, help to prevent gaps in income and improve crisis assistance. Citizens Advice Scotland's intention is to present CAB evidence in order that they can work constructively with stakeholders to prevent anyone from experiencing a period of no income, and ensure that adequate crisis assistance is available when things do go wrong.


Various impacts that gaps in income can have for individuals have been explored, but there can be impacts for others in the household, which are at times less visible. Of particular concern is the impact on children and other dependents.

Figures published by the Scottish Parliament on the cumulative impact of welfare reforms in Scotland show that these reforms impact unevenly on different individuals and households. Households with dependent children have been hit particularly hard, and especially lone parent households who can expect to lose around £1,800 a year when the reforms have taken full effect.

Of the 47 case studies analysed, a total of 15 clients had caring responsibilities, 12 of which were for dependent children, and three for an adult dependent with care needs. In the duration of the study, each of these clients had had to access some form of crisis support, most commonly emergency food aid from food banks. The implication is that the children in those twelve households were also reliant on food parcels in order to eat. The impact of this precarious situation on those children's early experiences is unknown, however the interview data showed parents' efforts to protect children from the effects of severe poverty.