‘Dignity, Fairness and Respect’ – please not another empty phrase!

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This post has been updated and rewritten (29 August) as I got confused between the various consultations (sorry) and some of the previous comments are already water under the bridge. However our main concerns still stand and we will be raising them with the Scottish Government.

1. We are very alarmed by the report that the Scottish Government is considering using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act to allow covert surveillance of people suspected of cheating the system. Even the fact that this is being considered at all has seriously damaged people’s faith that the new system will value dignity and respect. When people apply for disability benefits they expect to have to provide evidence of eligibility in the first place, but they do not expect their need for benefits to give the government carte blanche to spy on their lives. We hope and anticipate that this idea will be removed from the table at the earliest opportunity, before people are given more cause for worry and distress, and before the Scottish benefit system becomes as feared as the UK one.

There is an ongoing consultation on the investigation of offences, which you can respond to here. The detailed proposals are here, and the bit about covert surveillance is in Annex A pages 8-9

2. We have been very concerned to discover that DLA and PIP are commonly treated as disposable income when calculating eligibility for DHP. Our blog on this issue from last Sunday has generated a huge amount of interest and support.

3. We are worried about the consultation process itself. The Scottish Government has provided a lot of opportunities for people to give their views. This has generated a lot of effort and paperwork, but we are not sure how much these views are taken notice of.  We have tried to raise issues about the need for more welfare spending via the Scottish Government’s official petition system, (Petition no PE01677), only to experience this being continually kicked into the long grass. The petition was briefly mentioned at the Scottish Social Security Committee meeting on 24th May, but as far as we know, nothing more has been discussed. (It may have been looked at at the discussion of the Scottish Welfare fund on 21 June, but this was done in private – which is another problem.) Our petition was originally designed to feed into last year’s budget. The process is so slow that it will soon be budget time again.

There are still hopes that the Scottish Social Security system will make a big difference to people’s lives – please Shirley-Anne Somerville, don’t let it be a disappointment!

(The picture shows Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish Government’s new Cabinet Secretary for Social Security.)

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Getting DLA/PIP? – then you won’t need Discretionary Housing Payments!

Dundee housing

Whatever happened to ‘dignity, fairness and respect’? Yes, it is legal for councils to refuse Discretionary Housing Payments on the grounds that people can use their disability benefit to pay the rent – these payments are, after all, discretionary – but that doesn’t make it right. We were shocked to learn that this is happening in Dundee – especially as the council has generally been good at helping and advising people on benefits – and have written the following letter to the council leader, with copies to our two MSPs. Please tell us if you know of other councils that are demonstrating a similar lack of basic empathy.

We are writing because we were recently informed that the council regularly takes account of DLA/PIP income when deciding whether to award Discretionary Housing Payments. We realise that DWP Guidance allows care/daily living payments to be considered ‘on a case by case basis’[1], but this expressly should not be a general rule. And even if this is permitted for individual cases, it flies in the face of the purpose of those disability benefits, as well as of common decency.

DLA and PIP are supposed to compensate for the extra costs of being disabled, and are only awarded after a gruelling assessment process. In recognition of this, the benefit system acknowledges that these benefits should not be considered like other income, and should be disregarded when doing means testing or benefit cap calculations. The DWP may regard it as OK to ditch their own principles when it comes to discretionary help, but there is no need for the council to follow suit – especially as Discretionary Housing Payments are now devolved.  We are constantly told that when the Scottish government eventually takes over PIP, we will experience a different approach based on ‘dignity, fairness and respect’. We would expect to see dignity, fairness and respect in the allocation of Discretionary Housing Payments too – and that means not making people spend vital disability benefits on housing costs.

We have been happy to see Dundee City Council spend a lot of time and effort looking at issues of fairness in the city, but, if this is to be reflected in council practice, there can be no room for squeezing the meagre finances of Dundee’s disabled citizens.  


[1] ‘When deciding how to treat income from disability-related benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you must have regard to the decision of the High Court in R v. Sandwell MBC, ex parte Hardy. This decision places an obligation on LAs to consider each DHP application on a case by case basis having regard to the purpose of those disability related benefits and whether the money from those benefits has been committed to other liabilities associated with disability.’ (Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual)

PS Thanks to Jimmy Black for sending us this link to an article on the legal case mentioned in the DWP Guidance above

Red Yes City

SUWN group 2

SUWN and Stobbie4Aye and some 16,000 others marched through Dundee to demand Independence this afternoon. The message on our leaflets (below) and in Tony’s speech was clear: the call for radical change must be at the heart of our campaign. It is a message that is always well received!

You can watch Tony’s speech here:

This is what we wrote on our leaflet:

EH! TAE INDY

It is nearly four years since Scotland narrowly failed to achieve independence, following the desperate last minute intervention of ALL the major Unionist party leaders of the disunited Kingdom, who gave a ‘VOW’ of sweeping new powers for Holyrood to all those who voted NO. Needless to say, that promise was honoured more in the breach than the observance, and Dundee remains a city under siege from the Wastemonster elites with their welfare reforms, public-sector cuts and continued de-industrialisation. Indeed, as recent events have demonstrated, Wastemonster cannot even be trusted to respect the limited powers currently held by Holyrood. Theresa Mayhem and her minions are currently attempting a power grab in areas such as Scottish farming and fishing, currently controlled by the EU, and there is no indication that their appetite for gobbling up more Scottish powers has been satisfied. Meanwhile, the prospect of secure and decently rewarded work remains an impossible pipedream for far too many Scots. It does not, however, have to be this way, because

ANOTHER WORLD IS STILL POSSIBLE

The SUWN  campaigns for the freedom to make a better future.  We support the fight for Indy and insist that socialist principles are central to that fight. We can’t just wait for improvements after independence but must act now to achieve every improvement we can and create an unstoppable momentum for positive change.

Everyday activism and wider campaigns for social and political change are two sides of the same coin and boost each other.

STOBBIE4AYE is a local pro-Indy group of working-class folk who are committed to fighting for another and better Scotland by maximising support for Indy amongst our fellow Dundonians. Whilst our group includes members of pro-Indy parties, we hold no candle for any political party. We still look to the creation of an independent Scotland that will provide the ‘threat of a good example’ and so a springboard for a radical political and social transformation of the British Isles. In order to achieve Scottish independence, and for independence to make a difference to people’s lives, we are determined to keep the social (or class) question front and centre of the emergent Indy movement.

Our aim is to ensure that the voice, needs and aspirations of working-class folk take a central place within the wider Indy movement, and continue to do so when this country, inevitably, achieves independence.

We focus on what independence can offer to hard-hit working-class communities in this city and others like it throughout Scotland. So, for example, we envisage a socially just Scotland that would invest in developing our huge potential for renewable energy as a publicly owned resource, including developing the associated technologies that provide skilled jobs. A Scotland where public investment and fair taxation can fund a universal basic income, and Universal Credit, with its controls and punishments, is sent to the scrap heap.  We have the natural, and human, resources to re-shape our society and nation for the better, and to make the last four decades of Westminster Tory/New Labour misrule a distant memory.

If you want to have your voice heard, if you want to take your future and that of your family into your own hands, we urge you to join us, and to discover what an independent Scotland can become and how we can help create that better society.

UC – preparing you for the insecurity of the gig economy

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Malkie rang us after we had met him outside the jobcentre. He had received no money that month and had no idea when he would next be paid. Like so many others he was discovering the reality of the benefit that was supposed to make it easier to move in and out of work and to help people learn to manage their money! It took some time to work out what had happened. He had received wages from his last job at the beginning of the period in which the DWP assessed his benefits, and that had taken him over the income threshold for receiving anything from Universal Credit that month. So he wouldn’t receive anything before the end of the following month. And he was also paying off his benefit advance that he had had to get to tide him over when he signed onto Universal Credit, which was taking big chunks out of his payments and forcing him ever further into debt. Sorting out what was going on and getting some temporary help from the Scottish Welfare Fund took a long time and a visit to his MSP. In the course of this Malkie needed to get a photocopy of his award letter. The jobcentre wouldn’t even help with that and he had to spend his last pound at the print shop.

John, who we met a couple of weeks later, was also unable to find out how much and when he was getting paid. He was recently out of prison – I’m sure this uncertainty will help him keep to the straight and narrow!

Another Universal Credit claim is that it is supposed to provide practice for being in work by being as like a job as possible. That is the stated justification for expecting people to spend 35 hours a week looking for work: the only difference from having a job is you don’t get paid! I suppose you could argue that this financial insecurity might prepare you for work in the insecurity of the gig economy.

The idea that ‘work coaches’ are training you to be ‘employable’ promotes a very condescending attitude. One of our activists was told that it would be better if he didn’t arrange for his housing element to go directly to his landlord because he should learn to look after his money. As he observed, they could almost have added ‘like a grown-up’.

And the ‘work coaches’ are very keen to get as many people as possible into this improving regime. Another of our activists, who is on Jobseeker’s Allowance, repeatedly has to inform his coach that he does not want to change over to Universal Credit, and to remind her that he doesn’t yet have to.

Thanks to Tony, Norma, Gary, Duncan and Dave for help with recent stalls

Don’t be punished for DWP delays

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Steve told us that his landlord had taken three months to produce documents corroborating his rent. During that time the DWP paid no housing element on his Universal Credit, but the landlord still expected his rent. Steve was forced to pay this out of the money he was meant to live on, and then had to rely on family and friends for food and other necessities. The jobcentre had told him that there was nothing they could do and that his housing element could not be backdated. This didn’t seem right so we thought we would ask those nice people at CPAG what he could do about it.

If you are asked to supply evidence of your rental arrangements – and the DWP don’t have to request this though in our experience they always do – then a letter from the landlord or letting agent should be acceptable. If you don’t even have that and need to ask your landlord to produce something, then they are required to do this within a month. If you are eligible for help with housing costs and have supplied all the requested information that you are able to, the rules don’t allow you to be penalised for your landlord failing to do their bit. So Steve can put in a Mandatory Reconsideration to recover his missing Housing Elements payments. As with all important communications it is best to do this by letter as well as via the Universal Credit web journal and keep your own record of everything. You need to point out that you are eligible for the benefit and have done all that was asked of you, and that there is nothing in the regulations that says you should be penalised for the landlord’s failure to comply.

More often, though, delays are not due to the landlord (who has a vested interest in you receiving your benefit and being able to pay them) but to DWP inefficiency – especially people only being asked to supply evidence several weeks after they have submitted their claim. If the DWP is taking ages to come to a decision, your only redress is a letter of complaint, where you can make it clear that if they don’t sort your benefit you will take them to judicial review.