Benefit Claimants Not "Skivers" Say MSPs

14 December 2015, 07:08

A new Scottish welfare system must move away from the negative stereotyping of benefit claimants as "skivers'', MSPs have said.

Holyrood's Welfare Reform Committee has warned that the implementation of a distinctive Scottish system will require a "huge culture shift'' .

The committee has been investigating the future delivery of social security in light of new powers over welfare being devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

In a report setting out their conclusions, MSPs called for an overhaul of the current approach to ensure that "the same dignity and respect that is normally offered to NHS patients is offered to benefit claimants''.

They said: "Witnesses suggested that elements of the current system appear to operate under an umbrella philosophy which regards those on social security universally as 'skivers'.

"The Welfare Reform Committee rejects this narrative and believes that it is neither realistic nor helpful.

"We believe that a new Scottish social security system requires a huge culture shift.''

MSPs said the new system should be non-punitive, with sanctions used only as a last resort, and much more accessible with clear and simple communication in plain English.

Committee convener Hugh Henry said: "For three years, our committee has heard evidence of the devastating impact of welfare reform, from the ever-growing reliance on food banks to working parents having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children.

"Creating a better social security system for Scotland will probably be one of the biggest tasks facing Scotland over the next decade and it's important that we get it right. This is not about party politics but people.''

Deputy Convener Clare Adamson added: "We need to move away from the negative stereotyping of benefits recipients as 'skivers' and design a system of social security that places the dignity and human rights of service users at its heart.''

The committee recommends the introduction of long-term Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment awards for people with severe, long-term disability or illness and supports the Scottish Government's proposed increase in Carer's Allowance to at least the amount paid in Jobseekers Allowance.

The report also calls for the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid fortnightly, direct to landlords, and for the Scottish Government to use the new powers to immediately abolish the so-called 'bedroom tax'.

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said: "We agree with the Welfare Reform Committee that the current welfare system is in need of a significant overhaul.

"Its comprehensive report supports our aims of ensuring our new social security powers will treat people with respect and dignity, and be delivered in a fair and efficient way but there is also a need for the UK Government to do more to improve the benefits it will continue to deliver.

"Many people across Scotland including carers, young people, families and those who can't work because of disabilities or mental health, have all faced cuts and discrimination as a result of the UK Government's welfare changes and austerity agenda.

"Changes made out of choice not necessity.

"That is why, with the limited powers over social security to be devolved, the Scottish Government will take an approach which will put people at its heart and not punish the vulnerable.''