Unemployed and disabled people in rural areas are suffering more than most from the huge cuts being made to the benefits system, according to Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).
CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch says,
"For the last few years we’ve been showing how the welfare reforms are causing huge problems for vulnerable people all over the country. CAB advisers in every part of Scotland have seen a huge increase in their workload as they try to help the people affected.
“But we can report today that we are seeing particular evidence that people in remote and rural areas are having additional problems coping with these cuts.
“For example, transport links are so poor in many rural areas that unemployed people have to spend huge amounts of their small income just getting to and from jobcentre appointments or job interviews. And if they miss such appointments they can have their benefits cut. We have seen many such cases where people have been penalised in this way, for things that are not their fault.
“Lack of access to broadband is also a problem in many rural areas. Along with the distance and transport issues, this means that people often have to communicate with prospective employers and the jobcentre by telephone, which again is costly - particularly for those on low incomes.
“We don’t want to say that rural people are the only ones affected. The fact is that these welfare reforms are having a devastating impact on vulnerable Scots everywhere. But there is no doubt that those in remote and rural areas face additional burdens, and need even more help to cope with their impact.
“We have urged that Local Authorities and bus companies consider introducing more discount travel schemes for those who are on benefits, and that jobcentres apply more discretion in dealing with people who struggle with rural transport problems. But the real solution, of course, is for the government to halt these devastating reforms altogether and introduce instead a system that actually helps vulnerable people – urban as well as rural - and treats them with the dignity they deserve. ”
For more information, or to arrange interviews etc., please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Around 30 of Scotland’s local CABs serve areas that can be described as largely ‘rural’. All of these have reported these trends to us in recent years. Many ‘central belt’ CABs also have rural araes with them, so these issues affect a significant section of society.
As an example, Nairn CAB this summer ran a survey of unemployed people in their area. We can reveal below the results for the first time. This is a ‘snapshot’ survey of one part of the country, but the sample size (239) is significant, and we include it here because its findings accurately reflect the picture reported to us by rural CABs across Scotland.
We also have a number of case studies which show the sorts of problems regularly brought to CABs in rural areas (NB ‘rural’ includes parts of southern Scotland and even the central belt).
Nairn CAB survey
Nairn CAB investigated this issue over the summer by surveying a number of jobseekers in their local area. 239 people responded, and the findings included the following:
- 63% said they relied mainly on public transport, but 86% said they had no form of travel discount (Disabled people, students and pensioners are all entitled to some form of travel discount, in recognition of their low incomes. But jobseekers are not, and have to pay the same amount as those with salaries).
- 60% said they were paying more than £10 per week on transport costs (JSA is £71 for those over 25, and just £56 for those under 25).
- 77% said high transport costs had had a very negative impact on their ability to search for work.
- 94% said they felt unable to search further afield for work, due to high transport costs.
The Nairn CAB survey asked respondents how much of their income they spent on transport per week:
- 40% spend between £1-£10
- 37% spend between £11-£20
- 6% spend £21-£30
- 9% spend £31-£40
- 9% spend over £40.
NB £10 works out as 14% of an over-25s weekly Jobseekers Allowance of £71. For those under 25, the percentage is even higher (18% of their £56.25).
Nearly a quarter of those surveyed are spending over £20 pw on transport. That is 28% of the JSA for someone over 25, and 36% for someone under 25.
We have one case study who has agreed to be identified, filmed and interviewed:
Ailsa Kellett is based on the rural west of the Isle of Lewis. She is unemployed and receiving Jobseekers allowance, but the amount has been cut because of deductions (based on previous errors made by the Dept of Work & Pensions. So her JSA income is approximately £47 pw. This is supposed to provide for her food, heating and her jobseeking activity.
She can barely afford food, and her home is very poorly insulated: it has coal-fire central heating, but a bag of coal is £7, so if she uses 1 bag a day to heat the home, this costs her £49 pw; her benefit is only £47, so she already has no money for food – and that’s before she even thinks about how she can afford the transport costs related to her jobseeking.
To make matters worse, she has recently received a series of very contradictory letters from the jobcentre which have left her confused about what she is entitled to. Stornoway CAB has been helping her, and advisers there feel her situation is one of the worst they have ever dealt with.
NB An interview with Ailsa will be shown on BBC Scotland later today (12 Oct), and she has also been interviewed by the Stornoway Gazette. But she is prepared to be interviewed by other media as well. Contact us if you are interested and we will put you in touch with her.
In addition to this client, we have a number of anonymous case studies from across rural Scotland, whose cases show other typical problems rural people face. See below.
NB These clients do not wish to be interviewed or identified but we can provide CAB advisers in all parts of Scotland who will do interviews about these issues and about the sort of similar cases they see.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is unemployed and claims JSA of £113 per fortnight. The cost of a return journey to the Jobcentre is £6.50 (£13pm - over 10% of his JSA). He is finding it difficult to sign on, as he does not have the money to pay his bus fare. This means he has missed several sign-ons and so is being sanctioned and is losing housing benefit. The client is now at risk of becoming homeless. He has been living in a council house and now has arrears of £900 on rent. He does not wish to return to his council house for fear of missing more sign-ons and being sanctioned further, so he is currently sleeping on a friend’s couch. The client would like to find a flat near the Jobcentre.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client who sought advice after his JSA was sanctioned for 8 weeks. The reason for the sanction was that he had failed to take up a post that was offered to him. But the place of work was 15 miles from the client’s home and the bus service does not run during the working hours required by that post. The client was a carer for his mother for many years before her death in 2009. He wants to work, and feels that he has met all the obligations of the JSA agreement, but that he was simply unable to get to this job. The client has health and depression issues and is very stressed by the situation.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has had his JSA sanctioned for 8 weeks for allegedly not applying for a job he had been told to apply for. The client wants to work, and has applied for numerous jobs. His Job-seeking agreement states that he is to apply for jobs within 10 miles, as he has no transport. The job in question (which he has no recollection of being told to apply for) is outwith this distance, and so he would not have been able to take it even if it was offered to him. The client now has no money and all his benefits have been stopped.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is on Jobseekers Allowance, and has been to a supermarket for two interviews. The employer has told the client that he will probably be offered a job when one becomes available – but this depends on a new store opening several miles away. However the client is seriously out of pocket as a result of all these visits, as the jobcentre would not pay his travel expenses to any of the interviews (£6.20 for each return trip) because the job was part-time. This is a case of a client who wants to work, and has done everything his Jobseekers Agreement says he must do, and indeed he has been successful in his jobsearch, BUT he is beingpenalised because the system will not recognise the particular challenges he faces as someone from a rural area.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been on the UK government’s Work Programme since August 2011 and was told initially that he would receive payment for travel expenses when attending interviews. He has recently applied for a job in England which he thinks he has a good chance of getting, and has now been told that reimbursement of travel expenses through the Work Programme is no longer available - the funding has either been used up or withdrawn. The client wanted to know whether travel expenses might be able to be claimed through the jobcentre if he withdraws from the Work Programme. He says that if he is not able to get his travel expenses paid, he may need to take out a loan to pay for them.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was employed by a nursing home but left her job - feeling this was her only option, because the bus she used to travel to work stopped 3 miles away from the nursing home, and there was no pavement or lighting in the area, so she was afraid for her safety. She has now had her benefits withdrawn for ‘leaving a job voluntarily, without good cause’ and therefore will not receive any payment for four weeks. She applied for a payment from the Hardship Fund, but the application was misplaced by the Jobcentre. She completed a second application and was advised she would receive one day’s payment but nothing more until she made an application for JobSeekers Allowance again in 2 weeks. The client has no money for food, and has applied to a food bank so she can eat. The client is also now in arrears with rent and council tax.
NB This is just a sample of such cases. Others are available on request.