By Martin Kelly
The Westminster government has been urged to end the wall of silence on welfare reform after it emerged the coalition is consistently refusing to provide information on the effect of its policies.
In a Parliamentary Answer to Jamie Hepburn MSP this week, it was revealed that despite official requests from the Scottish Government, the UK Government has failed to produce any robust assessment of the cumulative impact of the welfare reforms it has introduced.
It has also emerged that the Scottish Government is not the only body to be denied information on the impact of welfare reforms. Answers to Parliamentary Questions at Westminster, responses to MSP correspondence and FOI requests have all been met with a refusal by UK Government departments to answer questions related to benefit changes and how they will affect the people of Scotland.
MSPs who attempt to write to the Department of Work and Pemsions on behalf of their constituents who are suffering as a result of Westminster’s unforgiving reforms are now being refused any information on the grounds that the issue related to their constituents’ matters is not devolved.
Any attempt to try to obtain information is being met by the same stock reply:
“This issue relates to a matter which remains the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament and has not been devolved. I should be grateful if you would advise your constituent that any future correspondence on this issue (or on any other non-devolved matter) should be addressed to his/her Westminster MP”
Meanwhile two Parliamentary Questions from Eilidh Whiteford MP to the Scotland Office asking them to disclose the number of meetings the department’s ministers have had with the Department of Work and Pensions to discuss the impact of the welfare reforms since they were introduced, were brushed off without a meaningful answer.
An FOI request seeking similar information was also met with refusal after months of delay.
Mr Hepburn, who is the Deputy Convenor of the Welfare Reform Committee, said:
“Not only has the UK Government hammered disabled people, the young, pensioners and hard-working families, but it seems they haven’t even been responsible enough to assess the full impact of their unjust welfare reforms.
“Not to have undertaken any kind of robust assessment of the impact their changes are having is simply beyond belief and speaks volumes about how little the Westminster Government seems to care about the effect its actions are having.
“As if that wasn’t bad enough, they now appear to be trying to duck questions, whether they are from MPs, MSPs or members of the public. The wall of silence that the Westminster Government appears to be building is simply unacceptable. They cannot just duck their responsibilities because the questions are tough.”
The UK Government has not yet produced a robust assessment of the cumulative impacts of the welfare reforms it has introduced. The Scottish Government has requested such an assessment. However, no such assessment has been forthcoming to date.
The situation has resulted in the Scottish Government having to develop its own picture of the cumulative impact of welfare reforms.
Mr Hepburn added: “The SNP Government has stepped in to protect people in Scotland by mitigating some of the worst of these reforms where we have been able to do so, but they are still having a devastating impact on many people.
“An independent Scotland would be able to set its own course when it comes to welfare and create a system that reflects the priorities and values of people in Scotland rather than those of a Tory Government determined to wield the axe on the most vulnerable.
“Only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will give us the opportunity to do that and ensure that no more damage is done by Westminster’s mismanagement of the welfare system.”
Last week Scottish Housing Minister Margaret Burgess highlighted the impact of the welfare changes on people living in Scotland.
She said: “…changes to tax credits since 2012 are estimated to leave low income households in Scotland approximately £700 a year worse-off on average, with some losing all their tax credit entitlement. Similarly, changes to housing benefit will have further reduced the income of many households already living in poverty.
“The under-occupancy [Bedroom tax] penalty in the social rented sector, for example, is estimated to affect 82,500 households in Scotland, with an average loss of around £570 per affected household per year, if they are unable to move due to the shortage of suitably sized accommodation. 15,500 of these are households with children.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation has announced a series of initiatives and demonstrations planned for the coming weeks and months.
SLEEP-OUT AGAINST BEDROOM TAX INITIATIVE: 24th AUGUST
The Federation applauds the efforts of anti-bedroom tax campaigns across England, Wales and Scotland to highlight the very real issue of homelessness which will be a consequence of the cruel bedroom tax through co-ordinated 24 hour sleep-outs in over 30 locations. The Federation is considering organising a sleep-out in Glasgow but wants to gauge support beforehand in relation to how many volunteers can actually take part in a 24 hour sleep-out. Please contact me or your local campaign to confirm you can take part. Our next all-Scotland organising meeting is on SUNDAY, 18th AUGUST at 1pm in GLASGOW UNISON’S office. We will take a final decision on an event at that meeting so please elect your delegate and send along visitors and observers.
STRANRAER DEMO 31st AUGUST
The Stranraer anti-bedroom tax campaign have organised a demonstration on Saturday 31st August. It is important that the Federation supports local initiatives so just as we mobilised for the successful Stirling Demo against the bedroom tax so we are mobilising for the event in Stranraer. They have attended all events in Glasgow so deserve our support. We are hoping union supporters like UNISON and UNITE will agree to pay for transport for campaigners to attend. We will leave Glasgow at 9am. Please put the date in your diary.
LOBBY OF LIB DEM CONFERENCE IN GLASGOW: SATURDAY 14th SEPTEMBER
The Lib Dems have exposed themselves as the yellow Tories in relation to the vile bedroom tax and welfare cuts. They have a conference in Glasgow on 14th September. The Federation is calling for a massive lobby of this event to shame this party for supporting bedroom tax and other welfare cuts. MEET AT THE SECC IN GLASGOW AT 11am. Bring banners and placards. SHAME THE YELLOW TORIES.
LOBBY TORY CONFERENCE IN MANCHESTER: SUNDAY 29th SEPTEMBER
Trade union members, health campaigners, anti-bedroom tax campaigns, anti-welfare cut groups and many others will lobby the vile Tories at their conference in Manchester. The Federation is supporting this lobby and will organise transport and a turnout. Put the date in your diary.
SCOTTISH ANTI-BEDROOM TAX FEDERATION CONFERENCE: SATURDAY 5th OCTOBER
The second conference of the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation will take place on Saturday 5th October. Please try and attend and share your experiences and initiatives with other campaigners from across Scotland. We will debate and discuss our tactics and strategy and elect a steering committee representing every part of Scotland. We must get prepared to organise physical opposition to all bedroom tax evictions from either Councils or Housing Associations.
SNP CONFERENCE FRINGE MEETING: 19th OCTOBER, PERTH
The Federation is organising a fringe meeting at the SNP Conference in Perth calling on the Scottish Government to change the law to outlaw bedroom tax evictions. While welcoming the SNP’s clear opposition to the vile bedroom tax and their commitment to scrap it in an independent Scotland we demand they protect Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens against bedroom tax evictions by amending the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to specifically outlaw evictions for bedroom tax arrears alone. Please put this date in your diary and come along to support this call on the SNP Scottish Government.
NEXT FEDERATION ORGANISING MEETING: SUNDAY 18th AUGUST, 1pm – 4pm
The next all Scotland Federation meeting will take place on Sunday, 18th August in the Glasgow UNISON office. Please try and send a delegate alongside visitors and observers. All of our business and issues from local groups will be debated and discussed in an open and friendly atmosphere.