Dignity and Choice; Action not Rhetoric

We welcome the addition of a dignity clause at Stage 2 but remain disappointed that the third sector’s more detailed amendment was rejected.

Whilst political rhetoric in Scotland calls for a more compassionate and empowering approach to social security, the debate at Stage 2 seemed to imply that people in dire need do not have the right to choose how to receive vital support. Those arguments focussed primarily on administrative convenience rather than the way in which the Fund can more effectively support individuals and families in need.

Whilst we acknowledge that the Fund is limited and will be under pressure, we still believe that a level of choice can be offered to applicants. When other legislation supports choice and control in the public sector, we should be strongly advocating for choice for people who apply to the Fund.

The Self Directed Support Act talks about individuals being able to make an “informed choice”; the Public Bodies (Joint Working) Act, through integration principles, encourages integrated health and social care services to take account of the “particular needs” and “circumstances” of individuals. The NHS quality strategy mentions improved patient choice.

If we can make these arguments for larger scale services which interact so closely with our lives, similar arguments for the principle of choice must apply to the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill. This is not to say that a local authority cannot choose to fulfil an award with goods or a voucher if this would protect a family/individual/where there is a real risk or if it better suits applicants’ circumstances. However, at a time when people have no real choice over the quality of their lives, enabling them to decide how a Fund award is fulfilled sends an important message to applicants– that we care for them; that they matter; that they canchoose.

The principles within the Christie Commission also apply here – this is not about top down approaches but working with people at a time when they may feel that the world is working against them. Let’s not take that last shred of dignity away from them.

As we have outlined in previous briefings[i], the Scottish Welfare Fund is a final safety net for tens of thousands of families. In creating a permanent scheme (along with the development of the Scottish Independent Living Fund) Scotland is taking its first steps in creating a Scottish benefits system. This Bill will be the benchmark for any future benefits legislation. Being allowed choice in how you are supported must drive the Fund and this supporting legislation.

As Inclusion Scotland argued in their submission to the Welfare Reform Committee:

“Treating people equally is not about treating them all the same but about taking into account their individual needs. Although current Guidance states that the applicant’s need should be met that is not disabled people’s experience of what is happening in practice. For example the bulk purchase of goods may save money but it also assumes that everyone’s needs are the same – which they most definitely are not. Inclusion Scotland therefore believe that taking into account the needs of the individual applicant should be a statutory duty placed on local Authorities.”[ii]

To ensure we protect and enhance the dignity of applicants, we call on all political parties to support the following amendment, which builds on and strengthens the Stage 2 amendment:

Margaret McDougall

Supported by: Ken Macintosh

7In section 5A, page 3, line 9, at end insert—

<( ) that the particular needs and choices of applicants are to be considered, and>

Cash vs Kind – Ensuring Choice for Applicants

If a general principle of choice (as outlined above) cannot be agreed, we would strongly argue for an amendment which ensures applicants can choose to have a cash award.

The third sector has consistently expressed concern that “in kind” awards from the Fund seem to be the default position with just over one fifth of awards made by way of cash, cheque or bank transfer in the second quarter of 2014.[iii]

In-kind approaches may work well for some, but for others providing standard goods may serve to decrease their independence, for example, people with disabilities. As outlined by CPAG and others, providing vouchers can actually serve to increase costs by preventing people from shopping around for a good deal or better quality goods[iv]. For families in rural areas, the ability to fulfil vouchers is likely to be limited.

As mentioned previously, having choice reflects the commitment to dignity for applicants. This has been a consistent point of concern for SCVO and for the third sector:

“For many, having cash to buy what they need is by far the best option – not least because it gives people some semblance of control and dignity at a time when they cannot control the factors which led them into hardship in the first place.”[v]

Our argument is that the Bill should be amended to ensure that local authorities cannot exercise unlimited discretion as to the nature of awards. We urge all MSPs to support the following amendment:

Ken Macintosh

Supported by: Margaret McDougall

5In section 2, page 1, line 21, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

<(3A) The Scottish Ministers may, by regulations, make provision about the circumstances in which a local authority may—

(a) provide goods or services to or in respect of an individual, or

(b) make a payment to a third party with a view to the third party providing, or arranging the provision of, goods or services to or in respect of an individual.

(3B) Regulations under subsection (3A) are subject to the affirmative procedure.>

Ensuring eligibility for families facing exceptional pressure

After reviewing the Bill’s provisions following Stage 2, SCVO remains concerned that families under pressure could be excluded from applying for support.

We share the concern of CPAG in Scotland and others that regulations and guidance cannot make provisions for this without something being on the face of the Bill. We also support arguments made by CPAG that an amendment to include families under pressure can ensure protection for the Fund in future:

Such a situation would give rise to a risk that local authorities – or future governments – might deprioritise applications from such families in order to protect their budgets or increase the share of community care grants available to other categories of applicants where there is a more easily identifiable link to immediate relief of budgetary pressures on other areas of spending.”[vi]

Furthermore, excluding this category of applicant works against the strong Government focus on tackling inequality and poverty and key strategies namely:

  • Child Poverty Strategy 2014, particularly the focus on maximising household resources and improving children’s wellbeing[vii]
  • The Programme for Government, which argues for a “compassionate welfare system”[viii]
  • Carers Strategy – Ensuring carers do not face financial challenges as a result of the cost of caring[ix]

The Stage 2 debate reflected concerns amongst parliamentarians about the Scottish Government not being able to include this amendment because of the nature of the Section 30 order devolving these Funds to Scotland. There was some hope that the draft clauses following the Smith Commission report could help address this, however, SCVO and other third sector colleagues have additional concerns, given the ambiguity of some of these clauses.

This applies especially to Clause 18 which appears to limit the existing powers under which the Welfare Fund operates. Of particular concern is the section on exceptions:

“Exception 5

Providing financial or other assistance to or in respect of individuals who appear to require it for the purposes of meeting, or helping to meet, a short term need that requires to be met to avoid a risk to the wellbeing of an individual.

The exception does not except providing assistance where the requirement for it arises from reduction, non-payability or suspension of a benefit as a result of an individual’s conduct…..”[x]

The effect of this clause must be examined further. If, as some have speculated, it does serve to limit current powers, then this makes a strong case for action including an amendment to ensure eligibility of families facing exceptional pressure in this Bill.

Given this uncertainty, we believe there is a strong case for “futureproofing” the operation of the Fund by placing families under exceptional pressure on the face of the Bill. In this context, we therefore strongly urge parties to support the following amendment to include families under pressure. Not only will this amendment ensure the Fund can support all those who need it but its passage would send a clear message of solidarity and support to families in real need:

Ken Macintosh

Supported by: Margaret McDougall

4In section 2, page 1, line 15, after <individuals> insert <—

(a) who are part of a family facing exceptional pressure, or

(b)>

More widely, we urge the Scottish Government to consider other actions to strengthen this Bill to protect the flexibility that currently exists within the Fund.

Ensuring Effective Review

We welcome work being done by the Scottish Government to review, evaluate and improve the Fund’s operation. Throughout the passage of this Bill, the third sector has consistently expressed real concern about the experience of applicants within the scheme; the lack of recording of applicants’ needs and the issue of gatekeeping[xi].

Given the critical nature of the Fund and the concerns outlined above, both Government and parliamentary review is vital. We support proposed amendments for review submitted by Scottish Labour. At the very least, we seek a strong assurance from Ministers that the Fund will be comprehensively reviewed and can be scrutinised by the Parliament under the provisions of the Welfare Reform (Further Provisions) (Scotland) Act 2012.

Conclusion

We must not underestimate the importance of this legislation. The Fund is small but its reach is significant. It is the final safety net for people in need. Scotland can take its first steps in creating a more compassionate social security system with a fair, inclusive and empowering safety net established as a result of this Bill, or we can continue to stigmatise those in poverty. As parliamentarians, we ask you to take the lead in this journey and support amendments to this important piece of legislation.

References

[i]http://www.scvo.org.uk/long-form-posts/welfare-funds-scotland-bill-stage-1-debate/

[ii]https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/S4_Welfare_Reform_Committee/Inquiries/ISWF.pdf

[iii] http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/swf/SWF30Sep2014

[iv] CPAG, SCVO, Inclusion Scotland and others – Stage 2 Briefing Welfare Fund (Scotland) Bill

[v]http://www.scvo.org.uk/long-form-posts/welfare-funds-scotland-bill-stage-1-debate/#Anchor7

[vi] CPAG Scotland, Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 briefing

[vii]https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/Resource/0044/00445863.pdf

[viii]https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/Resource/0046/00464455.pdf

[ix]http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/07/23153304/15

[x] Scotland in the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement. Draft legislative clauses, p 107 section 18.

[xi]https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/sites/default/files/CPAG-scotland-briefing-welfare-funds-bill-Dec-14.pdf

 

Contact

Lynn Williams
Policy Officer

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Mansfield Traquair Centre
15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB

Email: lynn.williams@scvo.org.uk
Tel: 0141 559 5036
Web: www.scvo.org.uk

About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:
 has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
 our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
 brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland
SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.

Further details about SCVO can be found at www.scvo.org.uk.