The impact of welfare reform has been felt across Scotland, and, asresearch commissioned by the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee shows, the most deprived areas in Scotland will take the biggest financial hit. With the reforms taking more than £1.6bn a year out of the Scottish economy, this report also finds that a key effect of the welfare reforms will be to widen the gaps in prosperity between the best and worst local economies in Scotland.

Third sector organisations often work with some of the most vulnerable people across our nation, so it is unsurprising that they have been feeling the pressure of the reforms. Working in partnership with the Scottish Government, SCVO has gathered evidence from around 400 people working in third sector organisations to uncover the main concerns and challenges arising as they endeavour to pick up the pieces of the reforms.

This report aims to provide a snap-shot of:

  • The ways in which welfare reforms have impacted/are likely to impact on the third sector across Scotland so far
  • The anticipated demand that third sector organisations expect to see in the coming months and years as a result of the changes
  • The gaps, or otherwise, in provision which must be filled to support the people being affected by the changes
  • Current projects and collaboration across the sector that aims to mitigate some of the impacts of the reforms

Evidence was gathered through focus groups of more than 160 people from across the sector, a sector-wide survey fully completed by over 300 respondents and a number of follow-up interviews. For more on the background and methodology of this project, see appendix.

The first section of the report, Increased demand now, considers what impact welfare reform is already having on third sector organisations. It finds that changes to disability and other health-related benefits (including an increased number of appeals), changes to housing benefit, and increasing complexity of the system, are the most frequently cited reasons for the current rise in demand for services. Claimants’ anxiety about current and potential future changes, as well as non-welfare issues such as the general economic climate, are also cited by a number of organisations as causing increased demand for their services.

The second section, Expected future demand, explains that the vast majority of participants expect to see demand grow over the coming months and years, across all organisation types and all geographical areas. Concerns raised by organisations relating to this anticipated increase in demand

  • An expected higher incidence of people presenting with mental ill health
  • Organisations spending an increased amount of time on welfare issues at the expense of fulfilling their organisational aims
  • Worries about the ability of non-specialists within the sector to provide accurate support as the complexity of welfare changes increases and more come into effect.

It is worth noting that some organisations report that they are already operating at full capacity, and so are unlikely to be able to meet any imminent or future increases in demand.

In the third section, Gaps in Provision, the most frequently raised gap is accurate information and advice, with many participants struggling against the complexity of changes, and the pace at which changes are taking place. Many organisations feel that accurate, up-to-date information on the reforms is essential. The need for more provisions for advocacy, one-to-one support, better community-based support, greater digital capacity and better transport are also raised as issues that need to be addressed. Finally, the issue of campaigning – against the reforms and against the stigma currently attached to claimants and to widen awareness of the reforms are also discussed.

The fourth section, Collaborative working and current projects, highlights a range of work that the sector is currently engaged in as it attempts to support people affected by the reforms. These range across all areas, from advice and support to practical projects, such as IT training and partnerships based at the heart of local communities affected substantially by welfare changes.

Finally, the report brings together a number of recommendations for the Scottish Government, local government, the third sector and others. It is important that we all act now, collectively, if we are to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society from the changes as best we possibly can.

Download the full report [PDF]