A third of Scottish benefit claimants ‘unable to get by’

Susan McPhee
Susan McPhee

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has urged Holyrood to use new powers to create a fairer welfare system after a poll revealed over a third of benefit claimants are ‘unable to get by’ on the income they receive.

Surveyed by CAS over the last few months, the respondents added that they regularly need the help of family, friends or foodbanks.

The figures are published today as CAS sets out its vision of how Scotland’s new social security system should work, after the devolution of significant new powers through the Scotland Bill.

The paper, ‘Fair, Equal and Responsive,’ sets out six key principles for the new service and also identifies some of the specific areas where gaps need to be filled. These include a fairer assessment system for disability benefits, more flexibility in the Universal Credit system and easier access to emergency funeral payments and cold weather payments.

CAS wants to see Scotland’s new social security system which is based on clear rights and responsibilities; responsive to need; transparent and accountable; fairly administered; sustainable and integrated with other services and developed in consultation with those who use it.

Publishing the paper, CAS head of policy, Susan McPhee, said: “Last year the Scottish CAB network dealt with over 220,000 new issues relating to benefits and tax credits; these were 37 per cent of all Scottish CAB workload. As Scotland’s largest advice provider for social security issues, we have seen clearer than any other agency the devastating impact of tough new policies like the fitness assessments and the ‘bedroom tax’. That’s why we have argued strongly for social security powers to come to Scotland so that we can devise a new system that works better for people who are in need.

“The devolution of some of these powers is imminent, and this presents an opportunity to begin to craft that fair, equal and responsive social security system that Scotland needs. But transferring the powers is not enough in itself. We have to make sure that those powers are used properly, and that is why we are setting out our vision today.

“At this critical juncture, we sought to use the CAB network to find out what a more effective system would look like in Scotland. In particular, we sought the views and experiences of claimants to consider how these new powers could be used. All of our recommendations stem from our interaction with those who will be supported by the new system.

“Our evidence suggests that there is a lot of room for improvement in the system. In our survey of 601 benefit claimants, over a third were regularly running out of money and having to turn to friends/family or to food banks for support. Disability benefit claimants told us about the struggles they had in claiming their entitlement and their frustration at the language used when governments talk about benefits.

“We have been encouraged by the Scottish Government’s willingness to engage with stakeholders and with the people that will be most affected by the choices that they make. We would like this to continue as high level visions turn into policy and then into practice. But this will require clear thinking from policy-makers now. They need to focus sharply on the evidence we are giving them and provide the right solutions. They also need to recognise that agencies like the CAB service need adequate funding if we are to continue to provide these essential services into the future.”


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