Stop sanctions and tackle child & pensioner poverty: Common Weal submission to Social Security Consultation

I, Daniel Blake film has highlighted the inhumanity of UK Government benefit sanctions

COMMON WEAL’S submission to the Scottish Government’s Social Security Consultation proposes routes to ending benefit sanctions in Scotland completely, and best possible options for tackling child poverty and pensioner poverty within the limits of the Scottish Government’s powers.

You can read the full submission here. 

The Scottish Government has indicated that it will not assist with the DWP’s benefit sanctions regime at the point of the Work Programme. Common Weal’s submission argues that they should go further, and pursue two routes that would have the draconian measures stopped north of the border entirely. People on Jobseekers Allowance are sent to a contracted provider through the Work Programme after 12 months (9 months for 18-24 year old’s).

The submission comes after a week of protests across the UK against sanctions, inspired by the Ken Loach movie I, Daniel Blake. A lobby of the Scottish Parliament took place on Thursday (pictured below).

“There’s two ways the Scottish Government could pursue the urgent necessity to end the utterly inhumane sanctions regime in Scotland,” Common Weal head of policy Ben Wray said.

“The first is to use the sloppy and ambiguous language devised by UK civil servants when drawing up the Scotland Bill 2016 against them. In it, they say the Scottish Government can only intervene in the delivery of reserved benefits in “exceptional circumstances”. But they don’t define what these are. In social security law and practice, exceptional can be defined broadly, and therefore the Scottish Government could reasonably introduce a wide range of circumstances where sanctions should not apply, rendering it null and void in practise.

“The second option is even more direct: there is a very clear case to say that benefit sanctions are illegal as they contravene the centuries-old legal principle that one should receive a fair hearing before a verdict is made. This does not happen with sanctions, with those punished only hearing about the decision after it is made. The Scottish Government could therefore rule all sanctions to be exceptional as they contravene the rule of law.”

The submission draws on a previous report for Common Weal in February from social policy expert professor Paul Spicker.

“There’s two ways the Scottish Government could pursue the urgent necessity to end the utterly inhumane sanctions regime in Scotland.” Ben Wray

As well as the proposals to end benefit sanctions, the submission argues that if Child Benefit was topped up by 50% and the benefit was made tax deductible, it would provide support for the poorest families who are being hit hardest by austerity and act as a major measure to tackle child poverty, with low-income families with one child £500 per year better off.

“A perfect storm is making the need to look at such a policy increasingly urgent,” the submission states. “The combination of a UK Government freeze on welfare benefits until 2020 and an expected rise in inflation (expected to be over 3 per cent by early 2017) from the rising cost of imports, particularly on basic necessities like food and clothing.”

The submission also proposes a Citizens Pension to replace Pension Credit to tackle pensioner poverty by enhancing coverage and reducing bureaucratic intrusion.

“Protests and lobbies against benefit sanctions have rightly ramped up recently after the I, Daniel Blake film and this will continue to grow until this issue is tackled head on.” Max Wiszniewski 

Robin McAlpine, Common Weal director, stated: “The Scottish Government’s social security options are limited, and money is tight, but we are keen to make the point that if there was the will, there is options there that could make a massive impact on tackling child poverty and pensioner poverty. We’ve also outlined routes to ending the obscene benefit sanctions and those should be pursued.”

Max Wiszniewski, campaigns officer for Common Weal, said there was a new mood to stop sanctions.

“Protests and lobbies against benefit sanctions have rightly ramped up recently after the I, Daniel Blake film and this will continue to grow until this issue is tackled head on,” Wiszniewski said. “Common Weal has advocated a means by which the Scottish Government could do this and we’ll be promoting that to campaign groups and politicians.”

The Scottish Government’s Social Security Consultation closes on Sunday 30 October.

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