On 14 May, CAS released Offline and Left Behind: Digital exclusion amongst Scotland's CAB clients. The report shows that over three quarters of clients with benefit issues say they will struggle with the UK Government's move to 'digital by default' - moving people on to applying for benefits online only - with the UK Government having a target of 80% of applicants doing so. A total of 76% of CAB clients said they would struggle to apply for a benefit online including 39% who said they could not apply online at all and so are at risk of losing their only source of income as a result.
That evening in the Scottish Parliament, a Members Business Debate on the issue was held, led by Hamilton, Larkhall and StonehouseMSP Christina McKelvie. Christina had put forward a motion based on the CAB evidence in the Voices from the Frontline: Digital by Default report published in February. A number of MSPs took part in the debate and the reply from the Scottish Government came from Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess. The full debate can be found here, and selected quotes are below. The CAB service was praised for all the work being done around digital access and commended for the evidence that had been brought together for CAS publications.
Christina McKelvie MSP:
[CAS reports] "highlight a wide range of real-life suffering that is a direct result of the so-called welfare reform policy. Those real people have been pushed and shoved to the edge because they do not meet the Government’s neatly streamlined criteria."
Malcolm Chisholm MSP:
"Organisations that provide information and advice for concerned claimants will undoubtedly have a great deal more to deal with during the coming period of transition to the new online system. It is therefore essential that bodies such as Citizens Advice Scotland be supported and properly equipped to cope with the change."
Dennis Robertson MSP:
“We need to congratulate Citizens Advice Scotland on all the work that it does to try to alleviate some of the hardships for many people in trying to come to terms with the welfare reform that the Westminster Government has imposed on us.”
Margaret Burgess MSP, Minister for Housing and Welfare:
“CAS is doing a superb job highlighting some of the issues that people face as a result of the UK Government’s welfare reforms. The report that it published this morning is more powerful evidence of the same.”
This report would not have been possible without many bureau participating in a national digital access survey. CAS would like to thank all those who contributed to this report, especially bureau volunteers and staff who took the time to distribute surveys. This has provided valuable statistical evidence on the difficulties bureau clients face when expected to apply for benefits and jobs online.