December 4, 2014 : Lynn Williams

The human cost of welfare reform

A new report from SCVO highlights the human cost of welfare reform - and it is a price too high to pay.

I have spent almost three years now focussing on the impact of welfare reform. There have been many days where I have shed a tear at work as report after report highlights the human costs of policies which hit those whose lives are already a daily struggle.

Today is no different as SCVO publishes research which examines the experience of people and charities across the country.  My colleague Zoe travelled from Easter Ross to Castle Douglas to speak to community organisations dealing with individuals and families affected by benefits changes. The picture painted is grim. Women and people with disabilities are among many others being hit and hit hard. The indiscriminate and devastating use of sanctions is confirmed – perhaps one of the worst transgressions of the coalition government.

The indiscriminate and devastating use of sanctions is confirmed – perhaps one of the worst transgressions of the coalition government

The experiences shared highlight a benefits system which does not respond to individual circumstances. Incredibly bureaucratic, it disempowers people and sets them up to fail. The Claimant Commitment is causing significant stress, with often unrealistic demands being placed on claimants. Families are left destitute. For women in abusive relationships and those within the criminal justice system, punitive approaches affect their ability to start a new life.  Zero hours contracts leave people caught between systems and services.

One case study was absolutely heart-breaking. A frontline adviser had been working with a man with learning disabilities who is supported by his parents. After losing his job he had been forced to attend a course which he could not cope with. His parents had expressed their deep concern about what would happen to their son when they were no longer there for him. Here, both devolved and reserved policies are at fault.

In rural areas, participants outlined a “triple whammy of factors” pushing people into long term poverty – excessive transport costs, benefit and service cuts and a low wage, low skilled labour market.

And what about the organisations themselves? They are picking up the pieces of broken lives. At the heart of their communities, they are struggling to meet complex demand with no increase in resources. Challenges we identified in previous research remain.  Short term funding, balancing numerous funding streams and “firefighting” all take the focus away from helping those in need.

Community groups provide strong messages in this research for Westminster and for the Scottish Government too.  Procurement must better support local organisations especially in rural and remote areas.  Continued action on the Living Wage is needed; prevention must truly drive a renewed public service reform agenda.  There will be a continued need to undo the damage being done by inequality creating policies foisted up on us.

There is one final message from this work.  We must take a different road from that outlined yesterday by the Chancellor. There is an opportunity here to build on the work of Christie and the Expert Working Group on Welfare to ensure that further devolution ensures greater equality; that people are able to live with dignity, self-respect and confidence.

If we ignore this message, then we have failed to listen to the voices of communities and families across Scotland

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Lynn Williams