Scots seek to limit impact of UK welfare reforms
Scotland’s very own welfare reform bill will start its progress through the Scottish Parliament tomorrow.
The Scottish Government introduced the Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland Bill) in March this year to ‘mitigate, as far as possible’ the impact of the UK Government’s Welfare Reform Act.
A welfare reform committee, set up in January this year to review the impact of the UK’s welfare reforms in Scotland, supported the Scottish bill in its first report on Wednesday last week (16 May).
‘The committee calls on the Scottish Government to use the powers offered by this bill to mitigate, in so far as is possible within the powers of the Scotland Act 1982, and within its fixed budget, the negative impacts of the UK Welfare Reform Act 2012,’ the report says.
‘It may be over-egging it for the Parliament to suggest its bill will mitigate some of the worst impacts of the reforms.’
David Bookbinder, CIH Scotland
If the Scottish Parliament agrees on the principles of the bill tomorrow it moves through two more stages before Royal Assent. The bill has wholesale support in Scotland and is expected to be law by summer.
While Scotland will not be able to change the benefits system through the bill it is seeking to soften the blow by protecting indirect help which claimants currently receive in Scotland, such as free dental treatment, free school meals and blue badge parking.
The bill also seeks to ensure tenants have advice and assistance on their eligibility for the housing element of universal credit, which comes in next year and will combine current benefits in one package.
But David Bookbinder, head of policy and public affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, did not believe the bill would be as effective as was being suggested.
‘It’s obviously welcome that these steps are being planned,’ he said. ‘But it may be that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government need to be cautious in the language they use: it may be over-egging it for the Parliament to suggest its bill will mitigate some of the worst impacts of the reforms as it’s unlikely that any magic wand can protect people in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK who are going to face hardship as a result of the welfare reforms. It would be wrong to raise expectations unduly.’
There is little detail in the bill at the moment but more would be added in the regulations after the bill was passed, Mr Bookbinder said.
Maureen Watson, policy director at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said: ‘We appreciate the Scottish Parliament, and the committee, are determined to pass the bill quickly for a smooth transition, but we still have concerns for families on very low incomes adjusting to the new system from 2013. We want to work with the Scottish Government to ensure as much information and help is available for families as possible.’
The SFHA will continue to lobby the UK and Scottish Governments on the need for an increased supply of housing and a fair welfare system, she added.