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
Scottish National Party (SNP) Media Release:
New figures obtained by the SNP have found a staggering increase in the number of people being hit by benefit sanctions at the hands of Westminster welfare reforms, further highlighting the need for a Yes vote and the full powers over welfare it would bring.
An answer to a Written Question from SNP MSP Kevin Stewart found that, since 2009, there has been a 65 per cent increase in the number of disabled people being sanctioned and a 76 per cent increase in women being sanctioned.
Lone parents have been hit the hardest, with a staggering 563 per cent increase in sanction since 2009.
Analysis from the Child Poverty Action Group has previously found that 100,000 more children in Scotland face being pushed into poverty by 2020.
Those hit by sanctions can have their benefits taken away for a fixed period of anything from a week to three years.
SNP MSP Kevin Stewart, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:
“These figures show a staggering increase in the number of people being hit by Westminster’s deeply unfair benefit sanctions. It is seriously worrying that lone parents are the hardest hit group with a 563 per cent increase since 2009 – this sets alarm bells ringing about the impact that this policy will be having on children across Scotland.
“The 65 per cent increase in disabled people being hit is also cause for major concern. The welfare system should be supporting and empowering people with disabilities, not making life more difficult for them.
“Women already bear the brunt of welfare cuts, with 69 per cent of planned cuts falling on them – these figures show that despite David Cameron’s attempts to appear to be taking action on equality, the number of women being sanctioned is up by three quarters.
“Evidence of Westminster’s failure on welfare grows by the day. We have already seen a four fold increase in the number of people relying on food banks as a result of Westminster’s obsession with dismantling the welfare state, and now the UK Government’s own report on Bedroom Tax – sneaked out during the reshuffle – finds more than half of those hit by Bedroom Tax are in arrears.
“The Scottish Government is doing what it can to mitigate the impact of welfare cuts, but with the full powers of independence we could do so much more. In an independent Scotland we can build a welfare state that empowers people, tackling poverty and helping to bring about the fairer Scotland we all want to see.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 July 2014
Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:
After months of denial, a UK [Conservative Party] Minister has finally admitted there is a link between Westminster welfare cuts and the increase in food bank use across Scotland.
The evidence the committee heard today is in stark contrast to evidence given to the committee by DWP director Neil Couling, who said that growing reliance on food banks was a result of the poorest people in society having to “maximise their economic choices”. This was later backed up by Employment Minister Esther McVey in a letter to Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.
Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud has also previously claimed there was no link between Tory welfare cuts and soaring food bank use.
During the committee meeting, David Mundell also said he wanted the UK Government to produce an analysis of the use of food banks – something that has not yet been carried out, despite evidence from the Trussell Trust that reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent in the past year.
The Trust’s figures also show that 22,387 children in Scotland used food banks in 2013/14 alone – an increase of over 1000 per cent since 2011/12.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael – who previously described the UK welfare system as “fantastic” – was scheduled to appear at the committee, but cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice.
SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:
“While it is welcome that a UK Government Minister has finally faced up to the fact that Westminster’s attack on welfare is responsible for the growing number of people forced to rely on food banks, this admission is long overdue. For months, Westminster has ducked responsibility and tried to blame the poor for the devastating impact cuts to benefits are having.
“David Mundell has said he would like to see a UK Government analysis on food banks – something that has not yet been produced, despite the fact reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent. Given we now have 22,387 children in Scotland relying on food banks for a square meal, we desperately need a change of direction.
“Scotland is brimming with resources and talent – and is richer per head than the UK, France and Japan – but while it is tied the Westminster system the most vulnerable people in society are forced to use food banks. Only a Yes vote in September can give Scotland the opportunity to build the fairer country we know we can be.”
Commenting on Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s cancellation of his appearance before the committee with less than 24 hours’ notice, Annabelle Ewing said:
“It was very disappointing that Alistair Carmichael did not attend the Welfare Reform Committee today. While everyone understands the importance of the commemoration on World War 1, Alistair Carmichael has a duty to appear before the Scottish Parliament and explain why the UK welfare system is ‘fantastic’ as he has previously claimed, and it would be good if it could be rescheduled.”
*David Mundell is the Conservative Party member of parliament for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (2014).
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 June 2014
Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.
In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.
Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.
The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system –
- a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;
- a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;
- a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;
- a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;
- the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;
- the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and
- the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.
Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.
Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:
“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.
“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?
“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.”
Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 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