> 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
Highly controversial Zero hours contracts are forcing Scottish workers to turn to food banks and payday lenders, according to a new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).
The report, ‘Working at the Edge‘, found that the inappropriate use of zero hours contracts by unscrupulous employers is exploiting workers and leaving them with “no hours, no pay and no chance”.
Some employers are now using zero hours for the majority of their staff, the report says, with women representing over half of those workers trapped on the controversial contracts. Young people and pensioners are also greatly affected.
Workers are frequently denied equal and fair working rights routinely awarded to part-time and full-time staff. The report warns that some employers are using zero-hours as a tool to easily sack staff.
CAS also warns that the misuse of zero hours by some employers is leading to some workers facing bankruptcy and prosecution over unpaid debts.
The report includes a case study of a CAS client on zero hours who only had three days work in a month and was forced to turn to a food bank to feed themselves. The client received a court summons after they found themselves £1,000 into arrears as a direct result of not being given enough hours work to pay debts.
Another case tells the story of a waitress on zero hours who was facing possible bankruptcy, after stacking up a debt of nearly £5,000 to payday lenders, while they waited for their employer to give them more hours work.
CAS policy manager Keith Dryburgh said:
“Zero hours contracts (ZHCs) are meant to provide flexibility for employers and workers alike. They are not suitable for everyone, but they can be a useful option for some people — as long as the system is applied fairly.
“However, we see growing evidence that the system is in fact being abused by some employers, who are frankly misusing it to exploit their workers.
“It seems that the flexibility in the system often lies with the employer, not with the worker. And too often workers are left with no hours, no pay, no security and no chance.
“There are 1.4 million people on ZHCs across the UK. They tend to be aged under 25 or over 65. Over half of them are women, and the areas they work in are those like catering, tourism, food and care.
“In highlighting these cases we hope to persuade employers that they should do right by their staff, and also to open a dialogue with government about how to improve the system to make sure this kind of exploitation doesn’t occur.
“We make a number of recommendations in the report, and we want to engage with ministers, unions and others to discuss ways to ensure a fair deal for all workers.
“We also want to get the message to any worker who is on a zero hours contract. You have rights, and we can help you to stand up for them.
“If you are unhappy with your contract or unsure of your rights, contact your local CAB and we will help you with free confidential advice.
“Nobody in 2014 should be in a position where they are working but don’t have the security of an actual income.”
The Scottish Government has previously called on the UK Government to crack down on the use of inappropriate zero hours contracts, by ensuring that workers receive compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice.
Commenting on the report from Citizens Advice Scotland, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:
“While the UK government is encouraging the use of zero hours contracts, the Scottish Government has been looking at options available to tackle the issue within its current limited powers.
“As employment policy is reserved to Westminster, this is yet another example of how we can do things differently, and better, with independence.
“Zero hours contracts can be beneficial for some but they are not appropriate for everyone – and are more likely to be offered to women, young people and pensioners. And the growth in the inappropriate use of these contracts is clearly cause for real concern.
“The fact that anyone is forced to rely on food banks in a wealthy country like Scotland is nothing less than a scandal – but that people in employment are now struggling to afford the basics like food is simply unbelievable.
“After a Yes vote we can use the powers of independence to make sure that more people feel the benefits of Scotland’s wealth.
“The establishment of a Fair Work Commission and a commitment to raise the minimum wage at least in line with inflation will help us take action on low pay.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 23 July 2014