MSPs have today expressed their “grave concerns” over the likely impact on Scotland’s most vulnerable people as a result of Westminster’s £2.5 billion cut in benefits.
In publishing a report recommending support for the scottish government’s Welfare Provision (Further Provision) (Scotland) Bill which seeks to limit the likely widespread impact of the UK Welfare Reform Act on the poor and vulnerable in Scotland, Labour MSP, Michael McMahon, Convenor of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee argued:
“We heard from witnesses about the bleak picture for those on welfare and the scale of personal impact that is likely to follow the UK reforms. We have grave concerns for the future of Scotland’s most vulnerable people.
“This comes at a time when the Scottish welfare budget is being cut by £2.5 billion. Seeking to limit even some of the negative impacts of reforms is therefore no mean feat.
“Our Committee has provided a forum for the concerns of individuals, service providers and campaign groups, to help to ensure their voice can be heard. It is important in the coming months and years that we are able to use this evidence to address those concerns by influencing forthcoming legislation and its implementation in Scotland.”
Alex Johnstone, the sole Conservative member of the committee however objected to the use of the term “grave concerns”.
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Outlining emerging themes that come from consideration of Westminster’s welfare reforms, the committee notes that:
• Changes to the benefits system will “remove lifeline benefits from large numbers of vulnerable people.”
• The means of applying for new benefits is “complex”, requiring greater use of online applications and “stressful capacity assessments” for finding those with long term disabilities as able to work.
• 330,000 people are caught within an appeals system that “overturns two thirds of these assessment results and time taken by medical professionals on the appeals process is impacting on frontline NHS services.”
• There will be a “major impact on the independence of disabled people, and on child poverty and homelessness levels.”
• “The likelihood of individuals and families getting into serious debt, including rent arrears, due to the new arrangements for allocating income support and benefit is increased.”
• As the instigator of the reforms, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “has done limited work to assess the impacts on different groups in society and therefore working out where to target support is not possible.”
Turning its attention to the Scottish government’s legislation to mitigate some of the impact of the reforms, the committee’s report argues:
• The DWP has a responsibility to provide “full and proper advice services to help claimants make the adjustments to the new benefits systems.” The committee notes however that “it would also be appropriate for the Scottish Government to examine whether it requires to support bodies whom claimants are likely to turn to for independent advice and assistance.”
• Significant problems can be anticipated for local authorities and housing associations both in transition and through reduced income and increased costs of borrowing as a result of the decision to consume housing benefit into the new universal credit.
• The DWP should have primary responsibility for undertaking “extensive modelling to understand the impacts of welfare reform in Scotland and the policy responses to it, e.g. in establishing criteria for passported benefits.”
• “The main aim of the Scottish government in implementing the new welfare system should be in so far as is possible to maintain eligibility to passported benefits as they are at present.”
This is yet another blow to Iain Duncan Smith, whose war on genuine claimants knows no bounds.