Esther McVey has once again refused to visit Holyrood to give evidence in support of cruel and callous benefit changes, it has been reported today.
It’s the third time the Tory Employment Minister has snubbed requests from the Scottish welfare reform committee to explain why the UK Government is “failing to support vulnerable people”, reports the Daily Record.
McVey’s excuse for failing to attend was that she was busy preparing evidence for a Westminster committee.
When she was last invited to give evidence to Scottish MSPs, cowardly McVey instead chose to send Neil Couling; who is now responsible for overseeing Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit project.
The Daily Record says Iain Duncan Smith has also refused invitations from the committee on FOUR occasions, while welfare reform minister Lord Freud has rejected one request.
MSPs have accused Esther McVey of “running scared” of the committee, and not caring about people affected by welfare reforms and punitive benefit sanctions.
SNP MSP Christine McKelvie said it was “totally unacceptable” for McVey to refuse to give evidence before the committee, on how Westminster cuts “imposed on Scotland” are affecting Scottish families.
She added: “A Tory minister has been repeatedly invited to come to Scotland and appear before the welfare reform committee to provide answers on their track record of failing to support vulnerable people, but this invite, and seven previous invitations, have all been snubbed.
“This refusal sends a clear message that McVey and her Government don’t care about Scotland.”
McVey defended punitive benefit sanctions in a letter to the committee, in which she wrote: “It is widely accepted that they play an important role in the benefit system.
“They are effective in encouraging compliance and we continue to manage the process so they are only imposed as a last resort.”
> effective in encouraging compliance – is that a chilling statement or what ? Do what we say or we will make you destitute.
Figures show the number of people affected by benefit sanctions in Scotland has rocketed since 2009, with the biggest increases occurring under the new sanctions regime introduced by the UK Government in October 2012.
The same figures also show a 65% rise in the number of sick and disabled Scots having their benefits slashed by sanctions.
Opponents of the new sanctions regime claim too many unemployed and vulnerable people are being sanctioned for punitive and unfair reasons. Such as turning up five minutes late for a work focused interview, even though they had informed the Jobcentre that they had a hospital appointment.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 07 Jan 2015
A local authority is considering raising council tax as it reaches the ‘end of the line’ in cutbacks to office jobs.
The leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, has said he is considering raising council tax for the first time since 2011 after accepting the Government’s freeze deal for four years in a row.
He joins Newcastle City Council in publicly declaring that a council tax rise may be on the horizon if fellow councillors vote for the change in setting their 2015-16 budgets in March.
The Labour leader, said: “I can’t give a guarantee that council tax won’t be increased in the next financial year.
“We are at the end of the line in finding these back office savings. Now we are looking at how we can find these front line services in new innovative ways. We’ve done asset transfers. We will have to have further talks with councils to see who might take the lead in certain areas.”
However he said any potential rise would fall short of 2% – the figure which the Government has said would trigger a referendum with the public.
He said: “We couldn’t afford a referendum and no council has gone for a referendum because you wouldn’t win. No one would vote for that, people would just vote no. I can’t rule out an increase because we are now at that stage.”
> But if they did vote no, surely that’s the will of the people you’re supposed to serve ? Just saying…
So far South Tyneside Council has had to make more than £100m in cutbacks to their budget, and must save a further £22m in the financial year 2015-16.
Councillor Malcolm said it is now time to turn to Holyrood in Scotland for support in gaining a fairer local government finance deal for the North East of England as much as Westminster.
He said: “What opportunities are there by looking northwards for the economy, transport and infrastructure?
“We need to have a conversation with Scotland, not just with Westminster and Whitehall. Whoever wins the election, I would expect them to do a root and branch reform of local government finance. No one really understands the formula and its open to widescale manipulation by ministers to make sure it goes to areas where they want it to go.”
He said previous talks on funding the dualling of the A1 with former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond had been less than fruitful but that it was important to ensure communications with Scotland are maintained as the country undergoes further devolution.
Source – Shields Gazette, 06 Jan 2015
> DWP are apparently more important than national governments now…
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of breaking the “letter and spirit” of the Smith Commission, after it emerged that lucrative Work Programme contracts are to be extended.
The Smith Commission, set up in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, recommended that control over the Work Programme should be devolved to Holyrood “on expiry of the current commercial arrangements”.
However, it has now emerged the DWP has taken the decision to extend the contracts without the consent of the Scottish Government, despite cross-party agreement powers over the back-to-scheme scheme would be devolved.
Commercial contracts are due to expire in 2016 and this is when the Scottish Government expected powers to be devolved, until they learned yesterday that the contracts are to be extended for a further year.
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said it is “utterly appalled” and “completely dismayed” by the decision, highlighting figures showing only 18% of job seekers find work through the scheme.
The SNP said the decision could leave unemployed Scots stuck with a Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, that “simply isn’t working for Scotland” until as late as 2019.
> It simply isn’t working for anyone, anywhere… except the companies with the lucrative contracts, of course.
SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of the Devolution Committee, said: “Westminster’s Work Programme simply isn’t working for Scotland – and the sooner it is devolved, the sooner we can get on with putting this right.
“Tory plans to stand in the way of progress break the letter and spirit of the cross-party Smith Commission agreement. As SCVO make clear, there is ‘no justification’ for this.”
“The Smith Commission could not have been clearer – devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire; but instead Westminster is extending the existing contracts.
“The UK Government sought Scotland’s agreement while the Smith process was underway and the Scottish Government is clear it does not agree with the extension.
“Quite why the UK Government thinks it is acceptable to completely ignore the Smith Commission proposals and press ahead with its failed scheme is baffling.
“The UK Government should apologise and immediately reverse this decision”.
Skills Secretary Roseanna Cunningham accused the UK Government of “breathtaking Arrogance” and has written a letter of complaint to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
“The ink is barely dry on the Smith recommendations and already the Tories are breaking both its word and its spirit”, she said.
“Smith is explicit. Devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire. Instead of honouring that, within just a couple of days of Smith, they are extending the contracts.
“That is breathtaking arrogance.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the decision to extend the contracts was taken “long before the Smith Commission was even set up”.
Mr Carmichael said:
“This was a decision that was taken in August, so some of the breathless commentary about this being a dreadful decision that was designed to thwart the will of the Smith commission is not justified because, frankly, this decision was taken long before the Smith commission was even set up.
> If the decision was taken in August, thats a little over three months ago. I know a week is supposed to be a long time in politics, but even so…
In any case, shouldn’t they have held fire until after the Scottish referendum ?
“Although these contracts have been extended from 2016 to 17, this again is an area where the two governments should be sitting down and the Scottish government should be saying to the UK government, ‘we have done some thinking on this. This is what we want to do with our new welfare system, now how can that be represented with the contractual arrangements that you’re putting in place’.
A recent ICM poll shows 63% of Scots want to see full devolution of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 04 Dec 2014
The future of universal credit was already seriously in doubt. But its survival now looks even more improbable following Westminster’s promises to the Scottish people in the run up to yesterday’s independence vote.
In their white paper on independence, published last November, Holyrood promised the abolition of the bedroom tax and a halt to the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payment.
Clearly independence is no longer going to happen in the near future, but Westminster has promised Holyrood much greater independence in relation to welfare benefits. So, there remains a very strong possibility that universal credit will soon be brought to a halt in Scotland.
Even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that the tax and benefits systems in Scotland will soon begin to differ from those in the rest of the UK means that the currently non-existent IT for universal credit would soon have to become even more impossibly complex to cope with separate calculations for Scotland.
In addition, more devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland now seems to be on the agenda. If tax and benefits systems begin to evolve differently in all four countries in the UK then the possibility of the IT systems keeping pace with so many changes becomes ever less likely.
With so much uncertainty about the future, and with a paltry 11,000 people so far signed up to universal credit, yesterday’s vote may be the perfect excuse for the coalition to abandon this disastrous project.
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Sept 2014
Even though Scotland didn’t vote in favour of independence yesterday, promises made by leaders at Westminster may spell disaster for claimants in the rest of the UK. In particular, it may mean IDS remaining free to persecute sick and disabled claimants, even if the Tories lose the next election.
Westminster politicians have guaranteed Holyrood much greater control over issues including welfare benefits and tax. But, in return, the Conservatives are now pushing to prevent Scottish MPs voting on benefits and tax measures in Westminster.
For Scottish claimants the changes are almost certainly good news. In their white paper on independence, published last November, Holyrood promised the abolition of the bedroom tax and a halt to the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payment. Holyrood has not gained independence overall, but in relation to benefits it looks like they may soon have a free hand.
So, for Scottish claimants, PIP, the bedroom tax and UC may all soon be distant memories.
But for the rest of the UK there is now the spectre that IDS and his persecution of the sick and disabled may not be halted even if the Tories lose the next election.
We could very easily find ourselves in a position where a Labour majority, or a Labour coalition, becomes a Conservative majority every time Westminster votes on tax or benefits issues if Scottish MPs are excluded. Whilst it might be difficult for the Conservatives to introduce radical new changes to the benefits system under these circumstances, they could certainly fight very effectively to keep things as they are.
Many claimants may argue that the difference between Labour and the Conservatives has become so slim that it will make little difference who is in charge. But others may consider that, no matter how awful Labour were when in power, they have suffered vastly more under the Conservatives.
So, for claimants at least, the prospect of life improving after the next general election may now be even more distant.
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Sept 2014
The Welfare Reform Committee in Holyrood has accused the UK Government of being “in denial” over the link between welfare reforms and increasing demand on food banks.
Committee members visited a number of food banks across Scotland and took written evidence from providers including Trussell Trust, Oxfam Scotland and the British Red Cross, as part of an inquiry into the supposed link between benefit changes and food bank usage.
The committee also commissioned research from the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.
The committee raised concerned that the increased use of benefit sanctions against some of the poorest sections of society is behind the startling rise in food bank usage.
In the year leading up to September 2013, official Government figures show that nearly 900,000 Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants had their benefit payments cut or stopped completely – the highest figure since JSA was introduced.
22,840 sick and disabled people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were also sanctioned during this period.
This, in part, has led to MSPs arguing that it is “insulting to suggest” that there is “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”, as suggested by Tory employment minister Esther McVey in a letter to the Scottish Government.
McVey recently postponed a meeting with the committee to discuss the impact of welfare reform in Scotland. This resulted in Labour MSP Ken Macintosh accusing the UK Government of deliberately trying to “avoid answering questions” about the “significant and negative impact the welfare changes have had on some of our most vulnerable”.
Scottish Labour MSP and convener of the committee, Michael McMahon said:
“The UK Government can no longer ignore the evidence that their welfare reforms are having a real impact on people’s ability to feed themselves.
“There can be no place for this in a modern, prosperous nation, just as there should be no need for food banks.
“Our evidence showed some low paid workers need to access food banks.
“This makes it even more insulting for them to insist that people using food banks are anything other than in desperate need of help. Help the welfare system should be providing, not charities.
“Allowing this Dickensian model of welfare to take root is simply unacceptable. Ignoring the problem cannot be part of the solution.”
The committee’s Deputy convener and SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, said:
“All our committee members visited food banks across Scotland.
“We were impressed by the professional and respectful way that the volunteers dealt with people who came to them, often in their hour of greatest need.”
Hepburn said that the UK Government needed to “own up to the role it is playing in causing the increase in demand and stop pretending this is simply all about people looking for something for nothing”, and that any such suggestion “insults the vulnerable members of our society using food banks and the volunteers that run them”.
Hepburn slammed the government’s welfare changes for “pushing people to the brink – and often beyond”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report as not being “based on solid evidence, but on the opinions of those interviewed”, adding:
“The truth is that employment is going up, benefits are being paid to claimants more quickly and independent experts tell us that there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago.
“The Trussell Trust and other foodbanks agree that increased awareness has helped to explain their recent growth.
“We spend £94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system provides a safety net that supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed.
“Our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”
> Said the DWP spokesperson, as their nose grew another metre…
Source – Welfare News Service, 02 June 2014