Whatever happened to our petition?

long grass

Nine months ago we wrote a petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to make more money available to mitigate the impact of UK Government welfare cuts through reassessing spending priorities and bringing in more progressive taxation. With the continued roll-out of Universal Credit threatening ever greater welfare misery, it is more relevant than ever – so what’s happened to it?

It was not until the end of October that our petition was deemed ready to be published on the Scottish Government website – after we had removed references to our blog (which could be considered to constitute advertising) and changed ‘Tory welfare cuts’ to ‘UK government welfare cuts’ (presumably ‘Tory’ is regarded as a term of abuse…). So, after allowing time to collect signatures, the petition was not submitted until 24th November.

And it wasn’t until 1st February – the day AFTER the Scottish Government agreed their budget plans with the Greens – that we got to present our case to the Petitions Committee. We also followed it up with detailed evidence. The committee asked for comments from the Scottish Government, but the Government response, which we received at the beginning of March, could have been written without even looking at our petition – as we told them. It merely reiterated what they were already doing or had already announced. We wrote a response to the Petitions Committee who looked at the issue again on 10th May, when they decided to refer it to the Social Security Committee.

This made some sort of sense as the Social Security Committee was about to look at the Scottish Welfare Fund, and the argument was made that our petition could feed into that discussion. But when the petition was included in the agenda for the Social Security Committee meeting of the 24th May, the accompanying background notes suggested that the Committee ‘for now, notes the petition and considers it again in light of outcomes from its current and planned inquiry work’. And, as suggested, the Committee agreed to leave our petition until the minister had responded to their considerations of the Scottish Welfare Fund, based on the evidence they had taken themselves in that and the previous session. There was no opportunity for our petition and our evidence to feed into this discussion at all, though Alison Johnstone for the Greens did ask for a date ‘so that we do not forget to come back to what is an important issue’.

This entire lengthy process proceeded with the utmost civility, but all that work and, much more importantly, the vital needs it represents have been decisively kicked into the long grass – and it’s getting very dark and muddy down there.

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3 thoughts on “Whatever happened to our petition?

  1. At the risk of making folks even more depressed…my “overview”: We have a Westminster government & parliament which is paralysed by Brexit and which refuses to review its punitive and disastrous welfare reforms (other than the odd bit of tweaking and judicial challenges). By the end of this year, Scotland will be a UC-infected region. We have a Scottish government and parliament which is less “neo-liberal” & more pragmatic than Westminster hence we have not had the full effect of health, welfare (eg Council Tax Reduction) & social care cuts as per England. However, with a few exceptions, Scottish MSPs, enjoying a standard of living and pensions etc which most Scots can only dream of, have set an artificial limit on how compassionate they are willing to be in the face of UK welfare cuts. Hence, they are unwilling to increase SWF, DHPs and the other issues raised in the petition. The Petitions Committee is overwhelmed and passed the petition to the SS Cttee. As you pointed out, the SSC ignored the petition and has sent a rather weak letter to the Scottish SS Minister summarising the discussion which took place on SWF. As the recess begins this week, don’t expect anything to happen until the autumn by which time the 19-20 Scottish Budget process will have started! The SSC is bogged down with the details of the new Act; all well and good but it will be several years before most of the new provisions actually take effect, all assuming that DWP-SG transfer talks don’t break down in the face of a Scotland v Westminster Brexit War! Local authorities will continue to be beset by funding issues so whilst there may be some positive steps towards better SS administration and advice at local level, the cake remains way too small. The disadvantaged will continue to depend upon help from the voluntary sector, be it poorly paid staff or unpaid volunteers in Food Banks, CAB, advice groups etc. Again, politicians will continue to heap massive praise on the voluntary sector and the work of volunteers but will continue to direct limited funding in to mainstream programmes (local authorities will usually seek to protect own services and staff (esp. senior) c.f. funding grass-roots bodies). One positive: MSPs and local councillors are much more accessible than MPs so if organised properly, anti-poverty activists can make a difference via direct pressure but it requires a much broader involvement of people, esp claimants and those using local welfare services, to really put the pressure on. If David Mundell and Nicola Sturgeon can find £100 million to re-build GSA (but no temporary housing for those affected by the fire) then surely a few million on SWF, DHP and local advice budgets is attainable? Apologies for the length of this posting!

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