The UK government’s welfare cuts and changes are pushing thousands of Scots into financial crisis, and the situation is set to get steadily worse - according to a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland.
CAS has today published an evidence report showing the effects that welfare changes are having on CAB clients – including sick and disabled people, pensioners, young Scots and families on low incomes – and the strains this extra workload is putting on the CAB service.
Among the findings from ‘Voices from the frontline...The impact of welfare changes on Scotland’s CAB’ are:
- The total numbers of issues dealt with by the Scottish CAB service has increased by 9% over the last five years, but the number of benefit issues has increased by 39% (or 50,000 new issues per year).
- Just one of the benefit change – the Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008 - has been a huge factor in this. The number of sickness benefit cases brought to Scottish CABs increased by 55% between 2008 and 2012.
- Last year CAB staff represented Scots at over 4,500 benefit tribunals, an increase of 118% in just two years, fuelled mainly by an increase in ESA cases.
- In the first nine months of 2012, CAB advised on over 47,000 new issues relating to the claiming process of individual benefits. In 2011/12, CAB helped clients complete nearly 26,000 forms and applications; with almost 20,000 related to benefits.
CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch, who will be giving evidence about the impact of welfare changes on advice services at the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee on Tuesday 22 January, commented:
“The CAB is the front-line service for those who are being hit by these policies so we have seen benefit issues soar by 39% over the past five years. Our advisers are seeing first-hand the real and negative impact that a series of changes over the past few years are having. And it is set to get very much worse.
“Current welfare changes and cuts are driving an increased demand for advice across the country, from people who are being pushed into financial crisis as they see their already constrained income slashed. In 2011/12 CAB across the country dealt with an average of 780 new benefit issues per working day.
“With further changes due to start biting or be introduced in in 2013, we expect demand for benefit advice, to increase even further along with an increased need for other areas of advice such as debt, housing, and budgeting due to changes in benefits. This increase in casework, as well as the increasing complexity and time-consuming nature or many issues, is of course having a knock-on effect on the ability of our service to help our clients.
“We are already at breaking point so desperately need to be adequately resourced to enable us to help those who need it most as we aim to mitigate the impact of welfare reform as much as possible.
“The recent benefits uprating bill debate highlighted the statistics showing how the poorest are paying the price for cuts. The evidence we are publishing today is not just statistics but is based on the real lives of real people. It is not just about the numbers of people affected, but the severity of the individual cases. We have seen a big rise in the number of people in crisis situations, either because of the direct impact of a benefit cut or because they have fallen through the gaps in the safety net that is meant to protect them.
“The evidence we are publishing shows who is really being hit hardest by current policies and it includes thousands of people who are genuinely sick, disabled, and vulnerable and deserve support.
“The impact of current policies don’t just hit the individual claimant but can also have a huge effect on children and others being cared for. Pushing people further into poverty and financial difficulties will lead to an increase in other problems such as homelessness, health inequalities, and family breakdown, as well as lead to rising debt and an increase for food hand-outs. Tackling these issues in future years will only add to the overall public spending bill, not reduce it.
“The UK government must heed this evidence and question whether they really want to continue on a track of devastating reforms which can only damage more lives.”
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact: Sarah Beattie Smith on 0131 550 1016 or 07774 751655
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Notes to editors:
Today’s report is attached. It is the latest in a series of reports we have published that concentrate specifically on the impact of welfare reforms. The series is entitled ‘Voices from the Frontline’ and all the documents can be seen at: http://www.cas.org.uk/publications?title=&spotlight=All&type=257
The attached report includes a number of anonymous case studies, chosen from our recent files to show the impact that welfare reforms are having on Scottish CAB clients. These are presented here as one long list, but in the report they are arranged by section, to illustrate specific aspects of the problem. NB. These cases are all anonymous, as we must always protect the identity of our clients.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose GP is ‘astonished’ that she has been declared fit for work in her assessment for ESA. The client had spinal surgery which has led to chronic back pain and irritable bowel syndrome. The client is also asthmatic and has borderline personality disorder involving mood swings and considerable medication. The client is seriously distressed by being subjected to continual assessments.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client and her partner who have both been found fit for work in their assessments for ESA. The client’s partner has bipolar disorder while the client was an existing Incapacity Benefit claimant for mental health issues and is a recovering alcoholic. The client has a number of debts and is considering bankruptcy.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose sister has received a letter from the local authority stating that she is underoccupying her tenancy and will have to pay £75 per week for rent. The sister claims DLA and is in receipt of full Housing Benefit. The client’s sister inherited the tenancy from their parents and has lived in the house all of her life. The client says that there are no suitable one bedroom properties in the area and that her sister is stressed by the situation and has already had a mental breakdown. The client had visited her MP and was told that her sister could be made to leave the property or forced to rent out rooms.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has received a letter from the local authority stating that £12 will be deducted from her Housing Benefit as she lives in a two bedroom property on her own. The client claims Incapacity Benefit and is finding it difficult to manage her daily life due to having ME and Fybromyalgia. The client was very distressed on the phone and said that she had recently had to give away her dog as she couldn’t afford to keep him.
- A Central Scotland CAB reports of a client who applied for ESA after suffering a stroke the previous year. The client requested help to complete the application from an adviser in the Jobcentre but was told to fill in the form herself. The client described the Jobcentre as difficult to access as security guards are checking client’s documentation before allowing them into the Jobcentre while an appointment is required to use the computers to search for jobs. The adviser assisted the client in making the application.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had been advised by Jobcentre Plus to come to the CAB to make a telephone application for a crisis loan. The client has learning difficulties and does not like to use the phone. The client lives with his brother after his mother died last year. The adviser called the crisis loan application line, but was held on the line for an hour without the call being answered. The client could not wait any longer and decided to ask other family members for help instead. The bureau commented that the Jobcentre did not help this client, which put more strain on bureau resources and time.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been trying to get through to HMRC on various occasions to request a claim pack for Working Tax Credit. He is totally exasperated with waits of up to 40 minutes without answer. The adviser called the helpline but was advised that they would be unable to send out a claim form unless requested by the client himself. They also advised that they are unable to make an outgoing phone call to the client and suggested the client should call the helpline number during a quieter time.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is struggling for money after starting a new job. This is because her benefits have stopped, but her wages are paid in arrears. The adviser called the Crisis Loan helpline at 10:45 and received an answer at 12:05. The HMRC adviser would not allow the bureau to speak on behalf of the client and, in spite of her answering a number of security questions, he terminated the call without any warning when she was unable to give the house number of a previous address. The client was visibly upset.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is struggling to apply for JSA. He was told at the Jobcentre that he had to apply for JSA either over the phone or online and that were no other ways to apply. The client cannot apply by phone as he has hearing difficulties and the client has no access to the internet. The bureau advised that the client has a right to make a claim on a paper application form and arranged for the Jobcentre to provide one.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who went to the Job Centre to request a Job Seekers Allowance claim form. The client was handed a card advising her to go online to complete a claim form. The client informed the Job Centre staff member that she did not have a computer or a phone. The Job Centre staff member advised the client that this was the only way to make a claim. The client then went to the local authority to pick up a Housing Form and explained that she did not have a phone or a computer to make her Job Seekers Allowance claim, at which point she was advised to go to CAB and that she could complete the form there.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is experiencing hardship due to a delay in a benefit decision. The client was receiving Income Support as a single parent before making a joint application for JSA with her partner. When they made the application, the client’s claims for Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Benefit all stopped. Currently the client’s only income is Child Benefit. It is now two weeks since they applied but they have heard nothing. When she asked about the delay she reports that they could give no reason and told her they would have to wait for the decision. The client has no money for food, so the adviser signposted the client to a local food bank. The client and her partner have a six month old baby.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is struggling while she waits for her working tax credit application to be processed. The client is separated from her husband and has three children. She works 22 hours per week and has applied for tax credits. However, when she phoned the HMRC to find out how her application was progressing, she was told it would take at least another three weeks. The bureau signposted the client to a local foodbank.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of an army veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The client was awarded zero points in his assessment for ESA which was overturned prior to appeal. The client was reassessed this year and again found fit for work. The bureau represented the client at appeal where he was awarded 21 points. The adviser pointed out that the client’s anxiety at having to attend the tribunal has had an extremely detrimental effect on his mental health. The client was reluctant to attend as he finds all formal situations can bring on bouts of aggression which he cannot control. Each time the client has to go through the assessment process his condition deteriorates and he is unable to cope.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who says that he has not eaten for a week after his JSA payment was sanctioned and his Housing Benefit was reduced. The client received a two week sanction to his JSA claim after he had forgotten to bring his diary to an appointment. The client’s ongoing situation was already difficult due to the new local housing allowance rules for people under 35 years old. He has several months’ rent arrears and is in fuel poverty as he has been using his JSA award to minimise the rent shortfall. The client has already had three crisis loans this year, so cannot make another application, and he has been told that he does not meet the criteria for a hardship payment. The client stated that he will not receive any money for a further five days and that he was in physical pain from lack of food. The bureau arranged for a food parcel referral for the next day while the client will be able to get some food from his sister to last until tomorrow.