Policy & Ideas

2007 - 2021

Welfare Warfare

Social Security — Infographics-01The latest act of heinous sadism from Welfare Minister (and perfect caricature of an evil Tory) Iain Duncan-Smith is to charge people 45p per minute to claim benefits over the phone for Universal Credit.

Everyone who has had any contact with the benefits system (obviously not exceptionally posh Duncan-Smith) will know that phoning the DWP can be a marathon, sometimes taking 20-30 minutes for the call even to be answered. To charge people 45p per minute for the loathsome activity is beyond repugnant.

It’s likely the move is a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of applicants, and therefore reduce the welfare bill.

‘If they won’t put up with 45p per minute, let them starve!’ You could imagine Duncan-Smith, who quite closely resembles evil nuclear plant owner Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, stating to his DWP minions, followed by a ‘mwuhahahaha’.

Of course this is no joke. The UK welfare system has become gradually more difficult to access, more confused, and more punitive, precisely in order to force people to give it up. The Tories ignorantly believe that will encourage people to ‘get a job’ – more likely is that it will lead to greater despair and penury.

Childcare Policy — Infographics-04The statistics on the impact of Duncan Smith’s reforms are truly shocking. One, on benefit sanctions, should paint the appropriate picture of immiseration: the number of people sanctioned with mental health problems has risen over 600 per cent in the past four years.

And for those of you who don’t know, if you get sanctioned (for turning up late or not filling in your job applications properly) that’s it – you get nothing for a couple of weeks or a month, or longer.

What can be done? Common Weal has published a new report today looking at the possibilities and limitations of social security powers set to be devolved under the Scotland Bill. The report is written by Professor Paul Spicker; an expert on the UK welfare system.

The first thing to note is that the limitations outweigh the possibilities. Let’s take Universal Credit as a case study: the benefit will still be delivered by the DWP, administered by the DWP, the amount received set by the DWP and who it is received too and when is decided by the DWP.

Any changes to Universal Credit – for example if the Scottish Government wanted to end phone charges for claiming the benefit – would have to be negotiated with the DWP. If the DWP did agree, they would likely set high administrative costs to do so, as they have done with the Scottish Rate of Income Tax. Even then it would be complex – there is no singular computer system for the processing of Universal Credit, making it difficult to separate out Scottish recipients from elsewhere in the UK.

Of course there is also more widely understood restrictions on the Scottish Government – a falling block grant from the UK Government year on year means room to manoeuvre in cash terms is limited.

All in all, as Spicker states in the report, “everything the Scottish Parliament does will have to be done with an eye to what is happening elsewhere in benefits and they will be subject to continued direction, and control of resources, from central government.”

However, this does not mean that nothing can be done. Indeed, there is two areas in particular where the Scottish Government could make serious anti-poverty strides without getting tangled in the mess of the UK means-tested system (where raising one benefit can often mean the loss of another).

First, the Scottish Parliament will have the power to create a top-up to Child Benefit, that everyone with children receives based on birth certificates and place of residence and is therefore not means tested and does not affect other benefits. By making the top up 50% of existing Child Benefit, the benefit could be integrated into the income tax system, meaning the poorest would benefit most and the better off would have it deducted from tax, making it more affordable.

At approximately £325 million, this measure could cut a hole through Scotland’s persistent child poverty, with 1 in 5 (over 200,000) children still impoverished.

Second, a ‘Citizens’ Pension’ could be created, which would act as a top-up to those who do not currently receive the full state pension. This benefit would not have to be applied for, and could replace the means-tested Pension Credit, which one-third of Scots pensioners (100,000 people) who should claim it don’t do so because it’s so confused. The cost of the Pension Credit in Scotland would then be transferred to the Scottish exchequer under the ‘no detriment’ principle, reducing the cost of the Citizens’ Pension to the Scottish Government.

This would be a strong anti-poverty measure for the elderly community in Scotland as it would ensure no one receives less than the state pension, and – crucially – the benefit would actually reach all of those who need it.

Both measures are contra Duncan-Smith in that they don’t make you jump through hoops to receive the benefit: in other words, a dignified approach to social security, very much unlike the DWP’s latest phone charge sham.

If the Scottish Parliament use the new powers to help the poorest children and pensioners, and restore a bit of dignity, then that will be something worth doing.

Comments (16)

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  1. AngusMan says:

    I totally agree with everything written in this article. At this article, but one one flaw perhaps- EEVEL, English MPs, some sectors of soliety north and south of the border, and the Loondon press.

  2. Mitchie says:

    Fit ah this shite min? yet anither earticle in Standard English? Fits wrang wi ye Belle, di ye nae like yer ain language?

  3. willie says:

    This articlle brings into sharp focus the reality of the current debate on the trap that is the fiscal framework. Without full tax and spend powers, the Scottish Parliament will always be at the end of Westminster cutting the budget and Hollyrood having to make it up from its limited tax powers. And most certainly not the time to indulge in the luxury of factionalism and fragmentation of the popular vote. The SNP got us to the referendum and although the Yes campaign did not prevail, we are I believe nearer independence now than we were eighteen months ago. Another SNP majority government in Hollyrood together with the biggest possible popular vote gives us the strongest opportunity to move to where we want to move. Cameron or his successor Osborne and Jonstone would dearly love to see the popular vote split across the micro parties such as Rise, SSP, Solidarity, Green et al. A vote for the SNP One and Two helps avoid this. Pragmatism!

    1. John Page says:

      What they would hate even more is if pro independence voters looked carefully at the polls for their region and as in my patch put in 10 constituency SNP MSPs and 3 pro Indy Greens rather than only 1 Green and 6 unionists including whatever useless SLAB candidate who was runner up to Jackie Ballie in the SLAB list competition
      13/17 Pro Indy is an achievable and very much to be desired outcome if we approach each region objectively. I want to see the SNP do well but there is a clear opportunity to easily reduce the number of unionists in Holyrood without affecting the number of SNP seats……if as in my region SNP is likely to win all 10 constituency seats then you divide the SNP list vote by 11 before you start
      John Page

  4. willie says:

    An SNP majority is, barring the heavens falling in, hopefully very much a guaranteed certainty. What is less guaranteed howevet is how big the popular vote will be. Margaret Thatcher once said that all the Scots needed to do to secure independence was return a majority of SNP MPs to Westminster. Well we’ve returned a majority of SNP MPs post a narrowly failed referendum. These MPs in terms of the popular vote speak for over 50% of the electorate. For me therefore, the logic of securing another SNP victory but also with the biggest possible popular vote gives us our very best chance go go where we want to go. This is no criticism of the various complexions of political views but simply the strategic vision to speak with a clear and unambigous voice. I fear factionalism and fragmentation before the job is done and I fear that a panopoly of micro parties will deliver that fragmentation. There will be plenty of opportunity for minority or narrow or sprcialist interest parties, but only after the big beast of Westminster has been slayed.

    1. John Page says:

      Why wouldn’t your objective be met with the biggest possible first vote for SNP but with a careful review of the polls veforeMay to ensure that second votes are not wasted and are used to deliver pro Indy MSPs rather than unionist and third rate SLABbers or worse Tories and LDs……I would much rather see an SNP majority plus 20 Greens than some claimed moral victory from hundreds of 000, wasted second votes for the SNP
      I don’t understand why people don’t just do the sums based on the current polls for their regions
      John Page

  5. Sandy McAndrew says:

    It’s is becoming increasingly obvious by the day, that the tories conversion to ‘devolution’, is not about democracy or closing a demographic deficient in the way Scotland votes, it’s all about cutting Scotland’s budget by the back door.

    What makes it a compelling policy for the tories is that devolution is something Scotland wants increasingly more of and is doing so not only to bring decision making back to Scotland, but also to differentiate Scotland from England / uk.

    Welfare will be one of the first causalities of this tory policy, this on top of the cuts already made.

    Might be worth while reminding labour that they believed Scotland is better off in this vile union, do they still believe that?

  6. Kenny Smith says:

    Good comments above but to get back on track with the article, Holyrood with any luck won’t be implementing anything from the Scotland Bill because its such a load of BS that it gets kicked out the park and gives us the push we need for either another Indy ref or my own preference UDI. I think what is suggested within the constraints of these new so called powers are noble and practical and if it comes to pass that these suggestions are needed then these are things that could make a difference but again I’d rather tell them where they can ram it.

  7. Anton says:

    “Any changes to Universal Credit – for example if the Scottish Government wanted to end phone charges for claiming the benefit – would have to be negotiated with the DWP. If the DWP did agree, they would likely set high administrative costs to do so, as they have done with the Scottish Rate of Income Tax.”

    I don’t understand this. The additional costs to the DWP in implementing the Scottish Rate of Income Tax are subject to oversight by both the Scottish Government and the National Audit Office. The appropriate correspondence can be found here:


    On what basis do you think the estimated cost to the DWP of £1.8 million is “high”?

    1. Anton says:

      And while I think of it, the claim that it costs 45p a minute to call the DWP is just plain wrong. Sure, it could cost this if you have really crappy mobile deal with an unscrupulous provider and you’ve used up all your minutes.

      If you request the DWP’s call-back service it costs nothing.

      I don’t mean to defend the DWP, because I think they should provide a Freephone number. But let’s criticise the DWP on the basis of the facts, not the nonsense reported by the MSM, although I see that The Guardian (for example) has now “modified” its claim of a 45p per minute charge.

      1. raddledoldtart says:

        In the real world how long do you think the wait for a DWP call back is? An hour… a day… a week… never… Maybe they call back while you’re out getting the kids from school… or you’re walking miles to the food bank.
        “really crappy mobile deal with an unscrupulous provider” Oh, who would put up with that? Oh, wait – poor people, that’s who would have to, cos no money or good enough credit rating for a better deal!
        This isn’t just a nice polite good customer service type issue – this is just the sort of kick in the teeth that drives folk on benefits to think suicide is the only option!

        1. Anton says:

          Thanks for your reply. But as I said before, I don’t mean to defend the DWP and I think calls should be free. However, I also believe that this point can best be made on the basis of the facts and not on obvious exaggerations. These simply serve to diminish the power of the argument, where I think you and I are both in agreement.

  8. Morag Browning says:

    Iain Duncan Smith lied he had attended Perugia University on his cv. A lie so grave he should have be charged with fraud. Others have gone to prison for similar offences. Why was that scum bag with no qualifications ever in charge of the Department for Work and Pensions? While students in England get into debt of £50,000-£100,000, just think, his unversity experience was free because HE MADE IT UP.

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