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


(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):

(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:

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):

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:

Nothing significant to add to UK manifesto.

Green Party (UK):

(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:

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

Liberal Democrats:

(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.


  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:

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


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.