FINANCIAL IMPACT OF WELFARE REFORM WILL BE HORRENDOUS
Michael McMahon MSP, Convener of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee
When the Scottish Parliament established the Welfare Reform Committee to look at the impact that the UK Governments benefits changes were having in Scotland we knew that we had to assemble the fullest picture possible of who was being affected and in what ways. We immediately set ourselves the task of listening to as many individuals and groups as we could.
We set up a portal on our web page called ‘Your Say’ which is the Committee’s initiative to hear directly from people who are affected by welfare reforms.
We very quickly realised from the information we began to collect that the fears being expressed to us at the outset were no exaggeration and were, in fact, an underestimation of the individual and societal devastation which was about to unfold.
To enhance the picture the Committee also commissioned, and last month published, research on the impact of welfare reform in Scotland. The impact was assessed in terms of the financial loss that would be experienced across Scotland and in each local authority.
The headline figure is that the impact on Scotland will be £1.6 billion a year – or an average loss per working age adult of £480 a year. There can be no doubt from this research that the financial implications of welfare reform on communities will be horrendous.
What is now known, too, is that some of the biggest impacts of welfare reform will be on disabled people, women and single parent families.
Additionally concerning, however, is the as yet unknown impact that the welfare changes will have on wider issues affecting children that are only now beginning to emerge.
Fears over increases in homelessness due to the so called ‘bedroom tax’, potential reductions in foster care availability and increased levels of child poverty are all strengthening as the fuller picture begins to form.
What these reforms will do to individuals is bad enough but could also be devastating to housing associations. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a real danger that some housing associations could fold and we need to look at the implications of this should it happen.
The pressure on third sector groups who work to support disadvantaged groups will also intensify and put them under unbearable strain.
We, therefore, need to continue to monitor how the changes are impacting, not simply to amplify the concerns being raised but to produce advice and information which can inform the Scottish Government as to what mitigation policies they require to introduce and to help the Committee scrutinise the effectiveness of any assistance that is put in place by Scottish Ministers.
We have heard from a number of organisations who understand the issues which will affect children and young people but the Committee has not yet directly heard the voices of children and young people so we will be looking for opportunities to explore ways to do this in order to make sure that their stories are also reaching the Committee.
We already know that there are specific issues for young people who may be immediately and individually affected by welfare reforms, such as 17 years olds who will face the transition from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment.
That is why, when the Committee considers its future work programme before the summer recess it is likely that one of the areas that will be discussed for potential future scrutiny work will be the impact of welfare reforms in relation to children and young people.