2014 – Scotland’s Welfare State

28
1907

By Jennifer Calder

For all the Unionists apparent alarm at the levels of poverty they claim the Scottish people will suffer under independence, they seem curiously relaxed about the poverty and misery so many Scots are living in right now.

And it’s set to get worse, a lot worse.

From 2013 new claimants of Income based Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Income Based Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit will receive Universal Credit.

By Jennifer Calder

For all the Unionists apparent alarm at the levels of poverty they claim the Scottish people will suffer under independence, they seem curiously relaxed about the poverty and misery so many Scots are living in right now.

And it’s set to get worse, a lot worse.

From 2013 new claimants of Income based Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Income Based Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit will receive Universal Credit.  It is expected that the migration of existing claimants will commence in 2014.  The coalition government cheerily informs us that there will be no cash losers at the point of transition.

Tucked away in the small print, we learn that those who were receiving more on their old benefit will have their benefit frozen until such time as the annual uprating of Universal Credit catches up.

As prices continue to rise and even middle class families finding themselves in fuel poverty, this benefit freeze will have a devastating impact on claimants.  As ever it’s the most vulnerable who will be worst affected as they are most reliant on benefits over the long term.

Over the last few years we have begun to feel the impact of Labour’s introduction of Employment and Support Allowance.  For all the former Labour Government’s talk of empowering the long term sick and disabled the real purpose of this reform was to cut the number of claimants.

It is little wonder the Tories have embraced ESA and its harsh ATOS medicals so enthusiastically.

A report by Glasgow City Council estimates that claimants of ESA forced on to Jobseekers or off benefits altogether stand to lose an average £1,469 per annum.  In the city of Glasgow alone that represents a loss of £24.55 million every year to claimants and in turn the local economy.

Not content with making life unbearable for the disabled, the ConDems have decided to have a go at families.  Recent changes to tax credits mean that couples where one or both partners work part time will have to work twenty four hours each week to qualify for help, rather than sixteen as in previous years.

Sadly the obvious solution for families caught in this trap of upping their hours or finding a job with more contracted hours is not quite as simple as all that. The jobs offering the hours required just aren’t there.  A report by the Guardian newspaper estimated that in February of this year only 52% of the vacancies on the Jobcentre Plus website provide enough hours to qualify for working tax credit.

That the government pressed ahead with this change despite knowing that there aren’t enough jobs around exposes their commitment to the family as the sham many of us long suspected it was.

The next major change we can all look forward to is the abolition of Disability Living Allowance and the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment.  The aforementioned report by Glasgow City Council estimates a financial loss of £753 per annum, per claimant.

This is bad enough in itself but imagine such a loss in conjunction with losing Employment and Support Allowance.  The crowning insult is that if you’re eligible you may claim Jobseekers Allowance instead, as you’re now deemed fit for work in a jobs market where competition is stiff and jobs are scarce.

With the £millions the government seem happy to waste on pointless schemes like The Work Programme and their recent millionaire friendly budget it’s hard to believe these changes are anything other than an ideologically driven attack on the poor and the disabled.

Worst of all there is no effective political opposition to any of this.

Labour’s attitude can best be summed up by Tom Harris who we can commend for his honesty, if not his views, when he says ‘We weren’t set up as some sort of charity to help the poorest in society – the long-term unemployed, the benefit dependent, the drug addicted, the homeless.’

With no major party at Westminster defending the poor and the vulnerable we can be confident that those changes not yet implemented, and worse, will sail through The Commons with ease.

We are fortunate in Scotland that we will have the opportunity to jump ship come 2014 but with so many of these changes already a ‘done deal’ an independent Scotland is going to inherit a society with worse and deeper poverty than it has now and a harsh, grossly unfair benefits system.

For those of us who aspire to living in a decent society where the vulnerable are looked after rather than scapegoated by the tabloid press and wealthy politicians, it is vitally important that we take every opportunity to oppose these cuts and start the debate on how an independent Scotland will rise to the challenge of tackling poverty and building a better and fairer country.