Less than Everything You (Didn’t) Want to Know about the Scottish Budget 20-21

Scottish money

Editorial Health Warnings:

  • This is a very brief, unstructured, synopsis of the key points relating to Social Security
  • The budget is a draft budget, subject to approval by Holyrood Committees & Parliament
  • The full document is 283 pages (very) long. Spending plans may be included in different “portfolios” (e.g. voluntary organisations that are funded centrally or via local government)
  • The writer is not an accountant, economist or any other kind of fiscal expert!

Official Health Warnings:

  • Unusually, the UK Budget will be announced after this draft budget, on 11 March. Due to the complex “grant sharing formula” for UK/Scotland (“Barnett”), the Scottish budget may change
  • Brexit can impact the economy and public spending;
  • The “fiscal risk” (uncertainty) of actual Scot Gov spending & actual Scot Gov income via taxation and grant adjustments is higher this year than previously (see below).

Brief Overview:

Note: £1b = 1,000,000,000 (a thousand million); £1m = 1,000,000 (a mere million)

Within a total budget of £50b:

Health & Social Care = £15b

Local Government = £11.3b plus maximum 3% increase in local Council Tax

Social Security = £3.7b (most of which is still paid via the UK DWP, see below);

Scottish Taxation: no change in rates and “higher earners allowances” frozen, meaning that 56% pay less than in rUK and the wealthier 44% pay more. (There is some uncertainty re actual income from Scottish taxation)

Social Security (Complex & confusing):

£3.7b Scottish social security budget will be mostly still paid to claimants via DWP in 2020-21

First “big” benefit transfer to Scottish control is new claims for child DLA in Summer 2020, estimated at 16,000 awards totalling £3m

Extra £10 p.w. per child under 6 in low income families will be introduced in Xmas 2020, estimated total £21m

The “Demand led” nature of transferred DWP benefits brings greater financial risk/uncertainty;

The Welfare Fund is (finally)being increased from 2013-14 levels, rising by £2.5m to £35.5m (a small nod to our SUWN campaign…)

Money for Discretionary Housing Payments is being increased from £63.2m to £71.8m, plus a further £2m for “care leavers”. (We campaigned for an increase in these payments too.)

Further details of the many Social Security developments (and a link to the Scottish Budget) can be found here

Thanks to Ian Davidson for this analysis

Bringing in the New Year, DWP Style

stormy weather ahead

The first stall of 2020 took place against the backdrop of Baltic weather conditions and the recent disastrous re-election of the Tories, which means that groups like our own will find ourselves, yet again, back on the active front line of the ruthless and never ending class war being waged against the poor and disabled in the name of ‘welfare reforms’. Whilst this very real prospect did not exactly fill us full of joy, particularly when we started to lose the feelings in our fingers, we are also aware that the situation we face at Dundee buroo is not nearly so desperate as it is at many other job centres. After nearly six years of advice stalls and constant pressure we have succeeded in reducing the number of cases we deal with from a torrent to a trickle, as local DWP managers have introduced a whole series of measures in order to ‘dry the well’ of issues that we can take up and campaign on.

We now regularly hear unemployed folk remarking on the change for the better in the atmosphere at the buroo and in the way that they are dealt with by the job centre staff. Indeed, some of the recently unemployed now take this new less confrontational approach by Dundee DWP for granted and can’t seem to understand that it was not always thus, and that change only came about through, sometimes, bitter conflict with DWP management, staff and security personnel. Of course, despite these changes for the better, there are still issues and cases for us to take up, and we are also aware that the situation could change for the worst in the blink of an eye, if, or rather when, the Tories launch their new class war offensive.

Jim approached us even before we’d finished setting up the stall. In his mid-fifties and on UC, he had been on the wrong side of a DWP clerical error, which had resulted in a stoppage of his UC payments. He had been given a slip of paper with a phone number on it, but had been advised that it could take a good while for the situation to be sorted. In the meantime he had nothing, not a single penny, to his name, whilst his electricity and gas was running low and his rent and council tax was overdue. We quickly arranged for a food parcel delivery through Taught by Mohamed and put him in contact with DEEAAP, which gives advice and financial assistance to those who are struggling to afford heating and lighting in the Dundee area (for further details see here). We also urged him to visit the Shelter office to seek help and advice with the housing issues he has and to request a full benefit check in order to ensure that he is receiving what he is entitled to. He left us in a far better frame of mind than when we’d met him, which made the cauld and weet fade into the background, at least for a wee while.

We also met Davey, who is on UC and, as a result of paying back DWP loans etc, was now seriously struggling to keep body and soul together on the princely sum of £94 per month. He explained that he has been in constant employment for most of his working life, but had been suddenly hit by illness, which he hoped and believed he would recover from sooner rather than later, thus allowing him to return to work. He was dismayed and angry that, for the first time in his life, he now found himself penniless, and was appalled at the way that he was regularly being spoken to by his advisor – particularly given the fact that she was young enough to be his daughter. It quickly became clear to us that Davey was eligible for Contribution based (now called New Style) JSA, as his NI contributions were up-to-date, which begs the question as to why he was not made aware of this.

As with so much else concerning Universal Credit, the devil is in the detail. Many people  whose NI contributions are up-to-date may benefit from going on UC as well as contribution-based JSA. The JSA payments don’t have the 5-plus weeks wait and are not means-tested, but you can no longer apply for housing benefit and child tax credits on top of JSA as these benefits are now part of the Universal Credit system, so if you would be eligible for help in these areas you’ll need to apply for UC too.  (Don’t rely on the DWP systems to point you to the correct benefit – they often seem to assume that everyone should just apply for Universal Credit. Ask about JSA and get independent welfare advice if you can.)

It was clear that in Davey’s case, going onto UC had plunged him into a financial crisis, chiefly through the disastrous impact of the five to six week wait that all folk have to endure before receiving their first UC payment. This meant that he had to take out a loan, and is now subsisting on a pittance. The DWP can only deduct a maximum amount equivalent to 30% of the claimant’s Universal Credit standard allowance , so deductions should be no more than £95.35 a month for a single person over 25 (For further details see here). However, they can make an exception to this rule when a claimant owes back rent and is in arrears with gas, electricity and water bills, which was the situation that Davey found himself in. We advised Davey to raise this whole issue with a welfare rights organisation in order to get a full benefit check and to see what would have been the most appropriate benefit for him to apply for, and whether he is due any back payments. They should be able to negotiate a more manageable debt repayment programme too.

Shortly after Davey took leave of us, we packed up the stall and made our way to the Counting House to warm ourselves with a coffee and a crack. However, we had not even taken our seats when we were approached by a well turned out elderly gent, in his early sixties, who asked us if were the SUWN and then informed us that he had just been sanctioned for two weeks for failing to attend a scheduled interview. He explained that his phone is not the best, that it had a cracked screen, and that, as a result, he had missed the text message. He also informed us that he was a volunteer with a cancer charity, which appeared to be frowned upon by his advisor who was of the opinion that he should be spending more time being out in all weathers looking for work that was not there. We advised him about the procedure for appealing, and explained that he should first contact the DWP on line with a mandatory reconsideration. We explained that whilst the mandatory reconsideration was likely to fail, as it is judged by an internal DWP ‘referee’, it is necessary to go through with it in order to get to the appeal tribunal stage, which is made up of public figures who are not connected with the DWP. We also provided him with our advice leaflet and phone numbers so that he could contact us when his mandatory reconsideration is, inevitably, rejected. The elderly gent, whose name we did not catch, took his leave of us with a smile on his face, and with our best wishes for a speedy and successful resolution of his case – whilst we returned to our very welcome cups of coffee.

Duncan, Norma, Gary and Tony were at this week’s stall.

 

Not (yet) the end of an era – and a poem from Sir IDS

IDS

As we end a decade of Tory rule with a prime minister who is more right wing than any in recent memory, the fightback is far from over. The SUWN was set up in response to the first year of Tory ‘Austerity’ and attacks on the unemployed, and although the situation today looks frightening on so many levels, we mustn’t forget the gains that welfare activists have won. It’s not just the immediate changes, such as embarrassing companies to withdraw from workfare programmes, or the very notable change of attitude shown by many of the staff at the Dundee Jobcentre. We have won the public argument. Despite an election result in the rest of the UK that was skewed by Brexit and a right-wing media, people are aware of the attacks on benefits, even when they are not themselves affected, and they don’t like what they see.

And, while we shudder at the actions of the right-wing and fascist regimes now dominating so much of the world, we have to take heart from the scale of the protests against them. Whether we are marching with thousands, or standing in the rain outside Dundee Buroo, we are all fighting that same neoliberal system, which is quite literally destroying people’s lives and destroying humanity’s future. So, see you at the stalls, or at the protests against the next inevitable attacks, and at the climate protests and the Indy marches.

We are fighting for a better world – but just in case you need a reminder of what we are fighting against, here is a short message from Sir IDS:

Iain Duncan Smith’s my name

A bold knight of the realm

Slaying welfare is my game

The weak to overwhelm

 

My Easterhouse epiphany

Taught me about the poor

Now bow the knee in front of me

You vagabond outlaw!

 

Oh, welcome me Sir IDS

All righteous lures I’ve spurned

To make you live on less and less

My title is well-earned

 

To tax the rich would count as theft

So just restrain your tears

The legacy that I have left

Will last a hundred years

 

And if you died in my crusade

A piece of glory’s yours

Your death has seen my future made

You’ve helped a noble cause

 

BEST WISHES FOR 2020 AND THE NEW DECADE OF STRUGGLE!

 

 

Scotland free or a desert

scotland free or a desert - trimmed

Today the world is an even more hostile place. The UK election has dealt another blow to the planet and corroded truth. It is a gift to the warmongers and the bloodsuckers. It is an attack on all the hard-won gains of the post-war welfare state. It will make life harder for the vast majority of the population, and if you’re on low wages, or from an immigrant family or unemployed or disabled, then heaven help you.

So why did so many people, especially in the old Labour heartlands, vote against their own interests?

Over the course of the last four decades, many places in the north of England have, as in Scotland, been transformed from vibrant local communities based on heavy industry, into windblown wastelands. However, the Brexit issue and how it was taken up by the working class of the English industrial heartlands points up the very real political differences that now exist between Scotland and England. Many areas such as Blythe Valley and Bassett law have been strangers to hope for many years, but voted in huge numbers for Brexit, which, for many, appeared as a way out of an oppressive system. In 2017 they largely remained loyal to Labour, even when the party’s left reformist program was being attacked every bit as viciously as has occurred over the last few weeks. The difference between then and now is that Labour has effectively moved away from honouring the result of the 2016 EU referendum, towards a fudged policy that faces in two directions simultaneously. Instead, many Brexit voters chose to support the man and the party whose only coherent message was, quite deliberately, ‘get Brexit done’.

It is a dark and burning irony that Jeremy Corbyn has been, like many others on the socialist left, a long-time opponent of the EU, which he, correctly, viewed as, essentially, an anti-socialist and business dominated bosses club, which would block any attempt to bring services such as rail, energy and water into public ownership. (The problem with Boris’s Brexit is not Brexit per se, but the way in which it is being done and the new trade deals that are being planned in its stead.) Corbyn’s move away from this radical, and socialist based, Euro-scepticism represents a triumph for the party’s EU-supporting right wing, and has cost the Labour Party dear. However, the drive for a second referendum on the EU came not only from the Blairites, but also from the left of the party, and particularly from within Momentum. This group, which played such a key role in Corbyn’s historic Labour leadership victory, have transformed themselves into Labour’s very own gravediggers, under the leadership and influence of John Lansman, a ‘useful idiot’ of the first rank, who, on the antisemitism witch hunt well as the EU issue, could not have been a more effective recruiting sergeant for Tory reaction.

It must, however, be acknowledged that whilst John Lansman’s complicity in leading the Labour left to the hell it has now found itself in was founded on good intentions, this is not the case with the Blairite and virulently anti-left elements within the parliamentary Labour Party.  These are the people who are saying that the reason for Labour’s defeat was Corbyn and what he stood for, and that now Corbyn has said he will step down, his more socialist (though by no means radical) policies should go with him.

In reality, the only sense in which these policies damaged Labour’s electoral chances is that they ensured that the whole British establishment lined up against them, including a deeply compromised BBC. It wasn’t just the incessant lies and smears, and the endless monstering of Corbyn himself, but the deliberate diversion away from discussing the essential bread and butter issues that Labour was highlighting and which threatened to make the UK a more equal society where they would no longer be so powerful. They did this precisely because they knew that if these ideas were properly heard and discussed they would be vote winners. You could describe this as political gaslighting. But, in the final analysis, it is important to underline that it was not the popular social-democratic manifesto that lost the Labour Party votes, but their confusing position on Brexit, along with relentless attacks from the right both within and outwith the party.

Even then, the result for Labour in England is not the collapse that the MSN and the labour right have widely trumpeting it as, and does not begin to compare with the catastrophic melt down of the party in Scotland: English Labour actually polled more votes (10.3 million) than they managed in 2005 (9.5 million), 2010 (8.6 million) and 2015 (9.35 million), and even in terms of percentage, Labour’s result on Thursday was 32.2%, compared with 29% in 2010 and 30.4% in 2015. It is also clear that this Tory government will be almost immediately beset with crises on an ever widening front, from Ireland, where the Unionist parliamentary majority has disappeared like snow from a dyke, to the potential consequences of a ‘hard Brexit’, and the very real possibility that a further economic recession is on the horizon. Under these circumstances, it is crucial that English Labour remains a viable force, thus enabling the SNP to form an effective anti-austerity alliance that can withstand the inevitable Tory offensive that is coming our way, whilst a collapse in the party south of the border would also strengthen Tory reaction, and allow them to focus their full attention on the ‘Scottish problem’.

There is now a stark political contrast between Scotland and England that is probably unequalled in modern times. Scotland has spoken, and the message is clear – a fundamental rejection of Tory Austerity and of dog-whistle reaction, and a resounding call for a second Independence referendum. Here in Scotland people do not have to pin their hopes on Brexit because a way out of the current system is clear. The Scottish working class voted SNP in droves, and Independence represents their settled will, despite increasingly desperate pleas from an albeit dwindling band of Labour activists that the ‘constitutional issue’ is a deflection from the class struggle.

The looming confrontation between the Scottish Indy movement and Westminster will be played out on the terrain of class conflict, as it always has been. During the ‘Scottish Insurrection’ of 1820, Hardie, Baird and Wilson believed that revolution was necessary because Scotland was either ‘free’ or it was ‘a desert’, and this battle cry was taken up by John MacLean during the political upsurges that accompanied the end of World War One. Another century on, it remains as true as before.

It now falls to a new generation of Scottish socialists and the wider progressive left to carry this tradition forward. Despite some pockets of socialist campaigning, Labour is almost dead in Scotland, but they could still become relevant again, if they were to embrace the spirit of their late nineteenth-century origins, when they became the Scottish party of ‘Home Rule’. Gordon Brown and others may well attempt to resurrect their dismal demands for some kind of Federal agreement, but that ship has sailed, and today hope lies only in Independence. With the possibility of a Labour government now off the table, Scottish Labour should, as a matter of urgency, drop their opposition to Independence – a position that has no relation to socialist values – so that we can work together in the fight for a better Scotland founded on social justice and economic equality. On the other hand, if Scottish Labour continue to set their face against independence they will quickly become completely irrelevant as a meaningful vehicle of Scottish working-class interests, and will yet again be used as a cat’s paw by the forces of reaction in the looming Independence struggle.

The only realistic possibility of a better future, and even of basic relief for those Scots who are unemployed, disabled or elderly, now firmly rests with Independence. Indeed, so many lives depend on it that the issue of welfare and class should be at the very heart of the independence campaign. Our message should be that another Scotland is not only possible, but absolutely essential in order to ensure a future for the coming generations – a welfare system and a wider social and economic system that truly reflects the aspirations and desires of embattled working-class communities across our nation.

With Boris in Downing Street, working-class communities will increasingly have to draw on their own resources merely to help each other survive. We will find ourselves continually involved in defensive struggles, but these can be transformed into the struggle for something better: for the independent ecosocialist Scotland we look to as the alternative to the neoliberal gulag that the dis-United Kingdom has become.

 

Social Security and the election

ballot box

While no-one would, or should, base their vote only on social security policies, it is good to know what the different parties are promising – and a useful indication of their general approach to society. So thank you Ian Davidson for ploughing through those pages for us and drawing up the summary below.

For their approach to social security, as well as their prioritisation of addressing climate change, the Greens should win hands down, but we know they haven’t got a chance of getting an MP elected in Scotland, so when it comes to voting, many of us will need to think tactically.

If there is a chance that the Tories might get in in your constituency, there are websites that can tell you the best tactical vote to keep them out– which in almost every case in Scotland will be a vote for the SNP. From the point of view of defeating the Tories, we must hope for a Labour government propped up by the SNP, which can be achieved whether we elect SNP or Labour MPs. (As the Liberals have said they will not work with Corbyn, a Liberal vote is a Tory vote.)

We recognise and welcome the promise of Labour’s manifesto, and the international significance of its determined move away from the politics of New Labour (and from the SNP’s Growth Commission!), but their reluctance to support Scotland’s right to self-determination is inexcusable. Those of us who believe that Scotland’s future should be decided by the people who live here, and not in Westminster, will hope to see a large contingent of SNP MPs to reinforce the mandate for another Independence referendum – which could be especially important if we get landed with another 5 years of Tory government.

Brief UK General Election Manifesto/Social Security analysis

Ian Davidson  27.11.19

SNP:

https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/www.snp.org/uploads/2019/11/11_22e-SNP-Manifesto-2019-for-download.pdf

(52 pages)

A whole range of benefit reforms: Scrapping Universal Credit, the 2 child limit, the Bedroom Tax and the punitive sanctions regime; ending the benefit freeze; reversing Universal Credit pensioner cuts; Full compensation for WASPI women.

NB: This is a statement of UK-wide policies which the SNP would seek to persuade the Westminster Parliament/government to implement & fund; it is not a statement of what the SNP propose to do currently within a devolved Scottish context.  However any commitment to spend more money UK-wide on a devolved service (e.g. the NHS) will result in increased block grant from the UK government to Scotland. To make matters more confusing, currently 15% of the UK social security budget spent in Scotland (consisting of DLA, AA, PIP etc.) is being transferred from the DWP to the Scottish Government. This programme is in its early stages (referred to below in the Scottish Labour manifesto).

Labour (UK):

https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/

(103 pages)

Universal Credit to be scrapped, with an interim scheme to end the 5 week waiting period pending replacement.  Also goodbye to the benefit cap, the 2 child limit, and the Bedroom Tax. Increases to Local Authority Housing Allowance/Housing Benefit rent levels. Top-up to ESA . End to the current disability assessments. Pension age increases capped at 66. After publication of the manifesto, the commitment was made to fully compensate WASPI’s.  

Scottish Labour:

https://scottishlabour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Scottish-Labour-Manifesto-2019.pdf

All of above, plus: Improving Scottish benefit reforms; increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund, topping-up Child Benefit. (Though as this is an election for Westminster these are just political markers.)

Tories (UK):

https://vote.conservatives.com/our-plan

Very brief reference to benefits – continued roll out of Universal Credit; end benefit freeze; reduce number of disability re-assessments for people with long-term conditions.

Scottish Tories:

http://www.scottishconservatives.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/GE-Manifesto_Scotland.pdf

Nothing significant to add to UK manifesto.

Green Party (UK):

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Elections/Green%20Party%20Manifesto%202019.pdf

(92 pages)

Main statement (pp.26-27; 49-50): introduction of Universal Basic Income (UBI), an unconditional payment to all adults. This would gradually replace existing social security benefits, but requires more detail (e.g. on future housing costs);  It is linked to Living Wage proposals.

Scottish Greens:

https://greens.scot/sites/default/files/Scottish%20Greens%202019%20Manifesto.pdf

The Scottish manifesto (28 pages) pulls together key poverty issues (p18-19) from the UK manifesto.

Liberal Democrats:

https://www.libdems.org.uk/liberal-democrats-2019-manifesto

(100 pages)

Main commitments (pp 62-66): Scrap: the Bedroom Tax, and the two child limit. Reduce the waiting time for the first Universal Credit payment to 5 days. Various changes to work capability assessments, sanctions, local housing allowances. Implement Ombudsman’s WASPI report.

Scottish Liberal Democrats:

Unable to locate Scottish LD manifesto.

General:

  1. The manifestos are statements of intent by each party in the event of winning an overall majority. Otherwise, the “commitments” may form part of any trade-offs between parties.
  2. WASPI: women born after 1950 affected by increase in state pension age from 60/65, (66/67).
  3. Each party has used different styles and terminology. “Social security” is just one policy heading; you need to look at broader issues such as housing, employment, equalities, funding of essential services etc. to make an informed judgement on each party’s approach to welfare.

Perhaps the most appropriate way to finish is to refer to:

https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/the-shifting-shape-of-social-security/

Analysis by Resolution Foundation of the three main UK party manifestos (excluding Greens and SNP): clear conclusion that the Conservatives’ policies will increase child poverty. Also, general lack of vision amongst all three parties as to the future shape of social security.

 

Rinse and Repeat

rain-122691_1920

This handful of cases from a recent stall perfectly illustrates once again the horrors of the UK benefit system, and why we need to keep pushing. We are determined to keep going until real change is made.

Ernie is a young man who has, for some time, been claiming the Limited Capability for Work element of Universal Credit. He approached us in a state of some anxiety. An administrative cock-up had left him facing a loss of his Universal Credit income.

His case was undergoing reassessment. He had duly turned up for his medical assessment, but they were running behind and could not see him on the day of his appointment. An alternative date and time were arranged. When Ernie turned up for the rearranged appointment, he was told he had missed it. He went straight to the Jobcentre and explained the situation. He was told to put a note on his Universal Credit journal explaining. He had also sent a letter to the DWP explaining. We suggested he re-send the letter recorded delivery, and keep a copy for his records, so that the DWP could not claim it was ‘lost in the post’.

We offered to go into the Jobcentre with him, but he declined. He emerged twenty minutes later looking relieved. A new advisor had been unusually helpful. A date for an assessment will be re-arranged. In the meantime, he will remain on his full benefit.

Bertha had also been claiming the Limited Capability for Work element of Universal Credit. But hers is a classic case of being found ‘fit to work’ when she is clearly unable to do so. She has appealed the decision and was waiting on the result. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau are helping her with her case, so there was little else we could say. We reiterated advice she had previously been given that it was worth applying for Personal Independence Payment in addition to Universal Credit.

Fred’s wife Fiona is at college full time. This means Fred is the full-time carer for a young child and a baby (what we used to call a Dad). He is being pressured by the Jobcentre into looking for full-time work. But Universal Credit makes no allowance for people to study. If Fred is the carer, then the DWP would expect Fiona to look for work. If she isn’t looking for work, then they would expect her to be caring for the children so Fred could work. Despite all the rhetoric, and the pushing of training schemes of dubious usefulness, you will get no support if you want to do a full time course that might really improve your prospects of future work.

Charlie talked to us about his son Chris. Chris is on a zero-hour contract stocktaking at a supermarket. He is working twelve hour shifts, often at night, and often at short notice. This hectic schedule means that he has missed a number of Universal Credit appointments. Chris has not been sanctioned yet, but his father is worried that he might be.

We are so resigned to the system being awful, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. It is a picture that would be farcical if it was not so horrifying. Chris is working hard in a difficult job. He is doing everything that is demanded of him, yet he is still in need of state support. Not only that: the state is constantly threatening to turn that support off through the threat of sanctions. Fiona is trying to improve her life through education, and yet her husband is at risk of being sanctioned for taking care of the children. Ernie and Bertha are both clearly ill, and yet instead of compassion, they are faced with being forced to look for work they have little chance of being able to do, even if, by some miracle, they were hired. These are not the actions of a welfare system designed to support people in their time of need. We continue to call for change.

No to homelessness in Freedom Square

glasgow protest

On the 2 November, there was another rally in Glasgow’s George Square for Scottish Independence. However, in the same place two days prior, there was a smaller, but no less important, protest against Glasgow City Council’s housing policy.

Shelter Scotland are currently taking legal action against Glasgow City Council. Shelter Scotland claim Glasgow City Council have illegally denied temporary accommodation to thousands of homeless applicants over the last two years. Shelter are seeking a review of the situation. The Guardian has a good article explaining the situation in more depth.

The SUWN were invited to speak at this event which took place on the 31 October. The text of the speech is reproduced below.

Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights states: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.’

Psychologists have long asked a simple question: What are the essential needs for human well-being? Food is pretty crucial, as is clean water, and a safe environment. A place to live, a shelter from the weather, is also pretty fundamental.

This is why the United Nations Declaration is so important. In one short document, it defines our needs as human beings and lays them out as human rights for each and every one of us. Human Rights are not a gift from on high, they are a collective responsibility. I cannot just look out for myself and think that is enough. Where we see other people’s rights abused or attacked, we must act.

This is why we can support the legal case Shelter Scotland has recently bought against Glasgow City Council. In denying the homeless that crucial first step of temporary accommodation, Glasgow council have failed in their duty to help the most vulnerable.

The legal case is not a decision that Shelter Scotland will have taken lightly. They are a widely respected professional organisation, not given to political or legal stunts. The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network have often referred clients with housing issues onto them. I would like to put on public record my thanks for Shelter’s help during my own housing-related difficulties eighteen months ago. I will be following the case with great interest.

The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network has, always been in favour of an independent Scotland. And not passively either. During and since the 2014 referendum we were out on the streets actively pushing for that goal. We still are.

In two days’ time, there will be a rally for Independence in this very Square. Rumour has it that Nichola Sturgeon will be speaking. We will no doubt hear the call for another referendum. But, what good is a referendum on independence, if we do not address the failings in the system using the powers that we have now? It pains us that we have to criticize an SNP-led council, but we are fond of quoting Alasdair Gray / Dennis Lee: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ It is no good just saying that independence will solve all our problems, if we fail to look at the problems we can address now.

These are issues that run much deeper. The SUWN’s main work continues to be working with benefit claimants. During our stalls outside Jobcentres we have seen the direct impact on the most vulnerable of UK Tory welfare ‘reforms’. In particular, the introduction of Universal Credit has been a disaster.

Under the old system Housing Benefit was paid separately. It was also paid direct to the landlord. Tenants could be sure that whatever happened, at least the rent was being paid. It gave tenants security of accommodation, and landlords security of income.

Under the new system claiming Housing Benefit means doing so under the Universal Credit system. Payments are made not to the landlord, but to the claimant’s bank account. Claimants are forced to budget for rent.

Shockingly, because it falls under Universal Credit Housing Benefit is sanctionable. And then, what next? Being forced to choose between feeding yourself or paying the rent? What happens if another crisis emerges? If the washing machine or boiler breaks down – what then? The temptation is to dip into to the rent money. This is why both landlords AND tenants have criticized Universal Credit. It takes away the security of knowing the rent will be paid. Another concern is that tenants may be forced to take out high interest loans in order to pay the rent.

These are not ‘just’ the views of some easily dismissible radical leftist organisations, but they have been repeatedly raised by establishment politicians in both the Scottish and Westminster parliaments. These issues have been raised by housing associations, and even Shelter themselves.

The system needs changed. Universal Credit needs fighting, not just because it is flawed, but because it is actively working against the wellbeing of claimants.  In both the welfare system and the accommodation system, housing policy must be looked at again. That is what we are demanding. Fairer treatment of the most vulnerable, means a better society for all.

A load o’ shite

STEAMING-MANURE-300x203

At our advice stalls we always try to ask people leaving the jobcentre if they need any help. “Any bother?” we asked one guy. “Nah. It’s a load o’ shite!” he said, rapidly retreating.

The interaction was brief. The man’s comment illustrates the general level of frustration at the system. It also demonstrates a more worrying phenomenon: claimants expect bad service from the DWP. It is a short step from expectation to acceptance. When you are routinely faced with bad service, it is easy to accept it as normal. That is of course what the UK Conservative government want. Their belief is that if they make the system as obstructive as possible, people will either give up complaining, or simply not apply for benefits in the first place. The SUWN is a voice for these people.

Jimmy is was also at this week’s stall. He is an older man, close to state pension age. He is on Universal Credit and had the standard grumbles, including the meagre allowance and the initial five-week wait. He contrasted it with when he’d last been unemployed. Unemployment benefits have never been generous, but Jimmy seemed almost nostalgic about the old welfare system. Listening to him was a bit like chatting to a veteran telling his old war stories. He thanked us for our work.

Aidan is somewhat younger. He also told us he was signing onto Universal Credit. He is handing in sick lines, and waiting on a Limited Capability for Work Assessment. He has been told he has to use a computer to look for work, despite being dyslexic and not knowing how. With regards to his health issues, we told him he was probably also eligible for PIP.

Brenda is an older woman who must be in her eighties. Her daughter, Anne, is herself coming up to retirement, having missed out when the retirement age for women was increased. (The WASPI generation). Anne has specific health issues and is unable to work, but because of a moderate amount of savings she is not able to claim Universal Credit. We advised that she may be eligible for PIP, which is not means tested.

Thanks to Jock, Tony, and Garry for helping at this week’s stall

DWP’s mistake – your problem

19-10-06 Sorry - DWP

Daryl had been given incorrect advice from an inexperienced advisor. He’d presented a ‘fit note’ saying he was too ill to look for work. His advisor had told him he did not have to take any further action. Two days before he was due to be paid, he discovered his Universal Credit claim had been shut down, as he had not been completing his work-search activities. He has had to open a new claim, and take a £300 Advance Payment, despite his advisor admitting his mistake. We advised Daryl to put in an appeal and make a formal complaint, as you can’t live on an apology. If you are ill and on UC (either ill temporarily, or long term and waiting for an assessment) you can still be expected to look for work and carry out other activities. You can, however, argue – with the help of your GP – that there would be substantial risk to your health if you were treated as fit to look for work or made to do certain things, and it is not ‘reasonable’ to expect you to do these. This should be agreed with your ‘advisor’ and recorded, so they can’t go back on what they have said!

Altogether, the first day of October was another busy day for the stall. There was a nip in the air that suggested winter was definitely on the way, and the chill seemed to have set into the DWP. Business was brisk. We had a number of the usual questions and complaints about Universal Credit. There were also a few cases, such as Daryl’s, that were more complicated.

Graham had been made redundant earlier in the year, and wanted to talk about the stupidities of the system. His contribution-based (or New Style) JSA was coming to an end, and he was now faced with the five-week (plus) wait for his first Universal Credit payment. He’d also had difficulties when making the UC claim, as the DWP had judged him as having savings over the £16,000 allowed limit. These were long term savings for his retirement that he couldn’t easily redeem and use. He’d managed to sort the situation out, but he was rightly angry that he’d taken the old-fashioned approach of saving for a rainy day only to find he was ‘too rich’ to be given help when he needed it most.

Alice is a young mother who spoke to us about a couple of problems. Her Universal Credit had been subject to a sanction for a missed appointment. The sanction was imposed despite the fact she’d informed the jobcentre well ahead of time, and she’d had a good reason. Alice’s other problem was in some ways more serious. She had black mould growing in her flat which was irritating her asthma and making her ill. She rents from a private landlord, who has refused to deal with the problem. We told her to seek help from Shelter, who would be able to advise on her housing issue. They would also be able to give her help challenging the UC sanction.

Martin was with his son. He suffers from mental health problems, and is suicidal. He recently had to leave work due to stress and anxiety. His son is very concerned about the suicidal tendencies that Martin has exhibited. The good news is that he has a good doctor who is on their side. While there was little we could do for Martin’s health, we could advise him on benefits. The jobcentre had told to him apply for the Limited Capability for Work element under Universal Credit. This was almost certainly incorrect advice. It looks as though Martin has enough National Insurance contributions to be able to apply for contribution-based (New Style) ESA, which is generally better and takes the pressure off right away – avoiding the issues that Daryl was going through. We suggested that Martin also apply for Personal Independence Payment.

Shellie was in a similar situation. She been bumped from ESA onto UC. With her health problems increasing, we advised her to approach Dundee City’s Welfare Rights team, who would be able to help her with her Limited Capacity for work and PIP claims. As with Martin we gave our well-worn advice: Get help filling in the form, and go into the assessment with a witness.

Norma, Tony and Duncan were at this week’s stall.

Erratum: During a recent blog post we made reference to Brandy the King Charles Spaniel. Apparently, Brandy is a Cavalier King Charles, a related but separate breed. We apologise to Brandy for the error, and are now happy to set the record straight.

A September Afternoon

September

Scottish weather can be unpredictable. Sometimes it feels as though all four seasons have passed in just a single two hour stall. As it happens, this week’s stall took place on a quite pleasant September afternoon. We were joined this week by a comrade from Glasgow who has moved into the area to do a postgraduate degree. It was good to see him again and have his help on the stall. We were also graced with the presence of Brandy, the King Charles Spaniel, who got huge amounts of attention.

It was reasonably busy again, and we spoke to a number of people. These cases were all standard questions about Universal Credit, which we have covered in previous SUWN blogs ad nauseam. That said, a few quick observations can be made.

If you are struggling to make ends meet, it is always worth checking to see what help is available. Eddie provides case in point. He works part time, and has disabilities. Until he was told otherwise, he was unaware he was eligible for benefits such as PIP. He is now better off, and, importantly, less stressed about money. Eddie’s case illustrates two things. 1. If you are struggling, it can be useful to get a benefits check from a qualified welfare advisor. 2. If you are eligible for a benefit, apply for it.

Roddy told us he was coming to the end of a four month sanction. His original ‘misdemeanour’ was missing a Jobcentre appointment for medical reasons. He had also been refused a Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grant, despite not having had one before. We’ve taken up his case, and won’t say much more, as it is still live. But it does underline our advice that if you have been sanctioned, you should put in a Mandatory Reconsideration as soon as possible, and then appeal the decision if this fails.

As its name suggests, the Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grant is only available in Scotland, though some English councils have similar Welfare Schemes. To apply for a Crisis Grant you must go through your local council, who make the decisions. If you are refused, you can challenge the decision. You should do so in writing to your local council within 20 working days of the decision, explaining clearly why you think it was unfair. They will arrange for someone new to look at it again. Shelter Scotland’s website has some useful information about Crisis Grants here. They can provide a vital lifeline – and could be even more important if the Scottish Government increased the money available, as we and others have repeatedly called for.

Picture Credit: September Afternoon, Eastern Townships. John Arthur Fraser, (1838 – 1898). National Gallery of Canada