Introduction

SCVO welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the planned debate on welfare reform.

Our short briefing highlights:

  • The concerns of the sector as welfare reform continues to affect the lives of individuals, communities and families with often devastating consequences.
  • The need to collectively find ways to support increasing numbers of people who are left with absolutely nothing to support day to day living, as a result of delays in the benefits system and increased use of sanctions.
  • That the sector stands ready as ever to work with all concerned to ensure that the appropriate safety nets are in place, and that we are doing all we can to mitigate the impact of welfare reform.

Key Points

  • The sector had planned to see greater impact from Universal Credit implementation – this hasn’t yet emerged due to delayed roll out. However, there are substantial impacts which we had not planned for e.g. increasing numbers of people presenting in desperate need as a result of benefit sanctions. Impact of sanctions on people with disabilities and health issues is worse than anticipated. See SCVO’s response to the recent DWP sanctions review. It is worth noting that right-wing thinktanks are now speaking out about the unnecessary hardship being caused by sanctions.
  • Feedback from Inclusion Scotland and others show severe delays for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) applications, leaving people with no benefits e.g. new applicants who may have had to give up work because of an illness/disability.There are long waiting times for PIP assessments – in rural areas, assessments are being “saved up” until ATOS/other providers have a bank to justify travelling to outlying areas. The recent announcement by ATOS in relation to its involvement in these assessments may provide a short ‘breathing space’ for applicants, but people are worried about what will happen next.
  • Lack of understanding of the complex benefits system is critical, alongside language barriers faced by key groups e.g. refugees. In some cases, refugees are facing sanctions within two months of claiming because they don’t understand what is expected of them.
  • There are local variations in decisions/appeals/sanctions/processes.
  • Devastating impact of new regimes on lone parents. The threat of sanctions, advent of the more strict claimant commitment is leading to behaviour change – people are taking themselves outside the system altogether.
  • The Claimant Commitment acts to disempower claimants rather than helping them to find work. People don’t understand their rights. Too much may be expected of claimants: unreasonable travel to work requirements etc. People also don’t realise that what is included in the claimant commitment can be negotiable between individual and adviser.
  • People want to find work but they need the right support to do so – and yet the DWP are quick to sanction. It’s worth looking at the success of the Scottish Government-funded Community Jobs Scotland scheme compared with the Work Programme. See the response to the sanctions review for more details.
  • People are getting caught between devolved and reserved policies and services e.g. not being awarded crisis grants from Scottish Welfare Fund if sanctioned and unable to prove exceptional hardship. The sector has some concern about the operation of the Scottish Welfare Fund (see attached response to recent consultation on draft legislation for the Scottish Welfare Fund).
  • Concern about the impact of welfare reform on devolved services – some anecdotal evidence that people are making stark choices between keeping crucial support services and heating/eating.
  • Increasingly the sector is seeing people presenting with absolutely nothing to live off – no money for food, heat or rent.

Conclusion

The sector stands ready to work with all interested parties, to look at how we continue to mitigate the impact of welfare reform in Scotland.  We need particularly to look at how we address the increasing numbers of people who are left nothing to live on, to ensure that no one falls through systems set up to protect and support them.

The sector is also considering the future of welfare in Scotland – as well as responding to the call for evidence from the Expert Working Group on Welfare, we have also considered the principles which should drive policies relating to benefits and the wider welfare state, regardless of where power lies. A paper published by SCVO last year provides an insight into some of that thinking.