Michael McMahon: Welfare reform hits most vulnerable

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Holyrood’s welfare reform committee held a public meeting in Craigmillar on Monday, where MSPs heard from local people and groups about how the UK Government’s reforms to benefits and welfare have impacted on them. Research undertaken for the committee has shown the Craigmillar/Portobello wards of Edinburgh to have been the worst affected in the Capital by the impact of welfare reform.

That was highlighted by the more than 50 local people who came along to share their experiences.

People told us of difficulties and delays in applying for PIP – Personal Independence Payments, the replacement for Disability Living Allowance. Applicants are often having to wait several months for a decision on their PIP applications, even when they have previously been recipients of DLA.

Several attendees brought up benefits sanctions. We were told of instances where people had been sanctioned without even being told. The indiscriminate use of sanctions which are supposed to “encourage” people back into work are leaving individuals and families without any income for weeks or even longer.

Plenty of people also had fears over Universal Credit, which is supposed to simplify the benefits system but threatens to throw up a number of complications, particularly when it comes to the controversial issue of single household payments.

Very little of what we heard was new to us, but the wealth of testimony the committee took away further confirms what we have been hearing in evidence sessions over recent months: that welfare reform is impacting on some of the most vulnerable members of society, whilst bringing limited measurable savings to the welfare bill.

The welfare reform committee was set up to monitor the implementation of the Welfare Reform Bill and keep an eye on the efforts of the Scottish Government and local authorities in mitigating the impact of these changes. We are able to point to the people and areas most affected. Disabled people, women and children are on the front line. And, because these changes are impacting on people already living on or below the breadline, we can point to places like Craigmillar and Niddrie in Edinburgh as being, geographically affected far worse than other parts of the city.

I’m grateful to everyone who came along to Parliament Day Craigmillar last week. We will shortly be producing a written summary of the issues raised and we took away a number of questions that we were able to raise when the committee met again at Holyrood the next day. We will continue to put these questions to UK and Scottish ministers and other relevant stakeholders.

Michael McMahon MSP is convener of the Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee.