Experts: New report shows Scottish Govt swamped by ‘tragedy’ of Tory welfare reforms

Ben Wray

Annual Scottish Government report shows spikes in benefits sanctions and child poverty as a result of Westminster led changes to welfare state

A NEW report into the effects of Tory welfare reform show the human “tragedy” brought on Scotland by Tory welfare reforms, experts have said.

The comments come in response to a new Scottish Government 2018 Annual Report on Welfare Reform which show rising poverty and destitution as a result of the austerity regime at Westminster.

The report shows, among other examples of the decline of the welfare system, that the share of children living in relative poverty is increasing and that benefit sanctions are increasing under Universal Benefit.

Speaking to CommonSpace, emeritus Professor Paul Spicker, a leading welfare expert at Robert Gordon University, said that Scottish Government efforts to mitigate benefits changes could not keep up with the pace of change and the extent of the damage done by Tory reforms from policies like the Benefits cap which limit child welfare support to two children and changes to the way in which welfare support is assessed.

He said: “Quite simply there’s too much water coming through the dyke, they do not have enough fingers.

“When the two child policy was coming in – what can we do to mitigate this?

“You get problems with assessments, what can we do to mitigate this?

“You can’t fill all the gaps, there are too many gaps, too many problems. Obvious massive problems as a result of sanctions where effectively we no longer have a safety net for many of the poorest people.”

The report, Spicker said, was full of data points “each one a tragedy for someone”. 

By 2020-21 the report estimates that £3.7bn will have been lost to the Scottish welfare budget over the previous decade.

The outcomes include that: “By 2021-22 the share of children living in relative poverty after housing costs is estimated to increase by 8 per cent in Scotland as a result of tax and welfare reforms implemented by UK Government since 2010.”

The roll out of the UK Government’s flagship welfare reform, Universal Credit, across Scotland has been denounced as chaotic by third sector organisations as special payments like community care grants have been deployed in a bid to make up for delayed payments.

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The report finds that claimants of Universal Credit are now more than six times more likely to have been sanctioned than those who use older benefit models still in the system. The report also states that policies including Universal Credit sanctions and the two child limit on tax credits increased the risk of poverty, destitution and mental ill health.

Spicker said that while there were still reforms the Scottish Government could make to improve the situation, the cut in funding was a major obstacle: “Its possible that the government could make certain interventions that would make a difference. I would point in particular to the regulation of personal debt and remedies that are given in the courts relating to personal debt. When this really bites, when this really hurts people, what can you do about it?

“It could also use its powers for new benefits and top-up benefits to try to think differently about distribution, you may be aware that many people in the anti-poverty lobby have been arguing for an increase in child benefit – a Scottish child benefit.

“But when push comes to shove the Scottish Government doesn’t have enough money. Its having the money transferred to it reduced.”

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Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance said that the freeze in benefit levels would have to end for the situation to begin to improve.

Speaking to CommonSpace, he said: “Scotland is a compassionate country where we all believe everyone should have a decent standard of living. The help that people receive through social security is important in helping to make that happen. This report shows that more needs to be done.

“In order to ensure everyone has a decent standard of living we need to see an end to the freeze in benefit levels. The cost of living hasn’t been frozen, so it’s right that social security payments should keep up with those costs.

“As we start to implement new Scottish social security powers, we need to [ensure] the help on offer is set at a level that helps loosen the grip of poverty in Scotland.”

The Scottish Government has sought to address some of the damaging effects of the UK welfare system by launching a Scottish Social Security system using devolved Scottish powers. 11 of the benefits are now administered from Scotland, while the Scottish Government has the power to establish new benefits. However, no additional funding is provided for this. The Scottish Government controls income tax rates and local taxation.

Picture courtesy of Paulio Geordio