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MSPs 'must give more scrutiny to Welfare Reform Bill'

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) are to tell MSPs that the UK government’s Welfare Reform Bill is ‘dismantling’ the welfare system, and is set to have a ‘devastating’ impact on many people in Scotland, taking £2bn from the Scottish economy.

Appearing before Holyrood’s Scotland Bill committee today CAS will also say that the Scottish Parliament is not giving enough scrutiny to the ‘seismic’ impact the changes will have on Scotland, and needs to take the rare step of establishing a special committee to do this – even though the issue is reserved to Westminster.

In a letter to the Committee convener ahead of today’s evidence session, CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says,

“The Welfare Reform Bill will have a major and damaging impact on the people, services and the economy of Scotland. As the current welfare system is dismantled, it is Scotland’s public and voluntary services that will need to pick up the pieces - at a time when they are facing huge cuts themselves. This ‘double whammy’ for the people of Scotland should be addressed by the Scottish Parliament.

“We believe a Welfare Reform Committee should be established for the lifetime of this parliament, so that it can analyse and scrutinise the welfare reform changes as they are introduced and implemented….There must be a role for MSPs to oversee how the changes affect Scotland’s citizens and services.”

In a written submission to the committee, CAS says the changes are so great that they need more organised scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament. The document says,

“Many people across Scotland will experience a significant detrimental impact as a result of the welfare reform proposals, especially disabled people, families and jobseekers.

“People with disabilities face the biggest impact from the proposed reforms. Re-assessments for sickness and disability benefits, alongside cuts in public services, will inevitably mean that many people will not receive the support to deal with their disabilities that they currently rely upon.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the principles of the Welfare Reform Bill, the fact must be recognised that the proposals as they stand merit much more scrutiny, investigation, and understanding.”

The document sets out a number of areas in which the reforms will hit the most vulnerable people, and also undermine the wider Scottish economy. These include the following points:

  • An estimated £2 billion will be taken out of the economy in Scotland during the lifetime of this parliament, £1 billion of this will be taken from disabled people and their families;
  • 190,000 sickness benefit claimants in Scotland are being re-assessed at a rate of 200 per working day, by a system which has been shown to be riddled with flaws;
  • An estimated 75,000 disabled Scots face losing their entitlement to disability benefits (under changes to Disability Living Allowance) and Housing Benefit cuts will have a disproportionate impact on disabled people;
  • Lone parents will be expected to go back to work when their youngest child reaches the age of 5 (the current age is 7);
  • The new child maintenance scheme will be unaffordable to many single parents;
  • Families with disabled children and people who care for their partner will receive a reduction in their financial support;
  • Changes in Housing Benefit will reduce payments by around £38 million annually in Scotland;
  • 55,000 Scottish households claiming Local Housing Allowance will lose around £10 a week. 7,500 claimants under the age of 35 will lose between £17 and £54 per week;
  • 110,000 households where tenants are considered to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes will receive an average cut of £13 a week.

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