Food aid in Finland: Learning from a Nordic Welfare State

Mary Anne MacLeod, Research Officer at the Poverty Alliance and PhD student at Glasgow University.

In Scotland we often look to Scandinavian countries to learn how we might do things better. World-leading education systems; the highest levels of gender equality; among the happiest places to live in the world – in many ways our Nordic neighbours serve as important role models on how to organise ourselves. Finland’s provision of universal school meals, from pre-school to 18, is a source of great national pride and also considered to be a factor in what makes their education system so successful. The Finnish ‘baby box’ initiative recently introduced here is an example of the Nordic commitment to the early years and child development which Scotland appears to be looking to take inspiration from.

And yet this impression of a progressive, inclusive society stands in sharp contrast to scenes I encountered on my recent visit to Finland. Long queues of people waiting for several hours for a few items of food otherwise destined for landfill. The sights and smells of this Helsinki ‘breadline’ made me think of my experience volunteering on Lesbos last year. Volunteers coordinating a long line of people to receive some small amount of donated food – a scene from a refugee camp on the streets of Helsinki.

Helsinki’s ‘breadlines’ have become the ubiquitous symbol for poverty in Finland. The phenomenon started 20 years ago at a time of huge economic recession which included the fall of the Finnish mobile giant Nokia, taking with it significant numbers of jobs. Unemployment rates sky-rocketed; growing from 3% in 1989 to almost 20% 4 years later. At that time Church groups began organising the provision of food aid, taking inspiration from models already functioning elsewhere in Europe. The Church intended that food aid in Finland would be a temporary measure to meet immediate needs and to act as a protest against the perceived failures on the part of the Government to provide people with adequate support. The appearance of breadlines in the capital was certainly a shock to Finns who, through the ‘golden years’ of the welfare state of the 70s and 80s, had considered the Church-run soup kitchens of the Poor Law era to have been banished to history. Yet despite periods of economic growth since the ‘great depression’ of the early 90s Finland’s breadlines have continued. The long lines of people queuing for food have become an accepted feature of everyday life in Helsinki. After 20 years the initial public outrage and motivation to seek solutions has all but vanished. The issue is largely absent from policy or political debate, media interest in the once sensational images of the breadlines has largely worn off. In Finland, a country so revered for much of its social policy, there is generally an uncritical acceptance that food aid is here to stay.

During my visit I interviewed a number of individuals who had been key players in the initial establishment of food aid provision in Finland. Their reflections on how its role has developed perhaps provide some important lessons for Scotland. They spoke about the huge challenge of dismantling a system of aid once it has been put in place; the attractiveness of charitable models to those who would look to privatise services and lower taxes; the diminishing of support for the welfare state which occurs when universalism within the system is weakened. As we consider what a Scottish social security system might look like, we need to think carefully about the expanding role of charity food aid within our current system and consider how we might want things to work differently in the future. Important learning can be taken from countries such as Finland which we already look to emulate, yet perhaps in this case about we might learn how not to do things.

Reflections of a Living Wage Accreditation Officer

Before moving on to a new post with Who Cares? Scotland next month, David Faith looks back on the last year and half working as a Living Wage Accreditation Officer with the Poverty Alliance.

When you leave behind a career in the law, you inevitably worry that you might be making a very serious mistake. It took me three additional years of University and another two years as a trainee to qualify as a solicitor and then a fairly intensive recruitment process to land a job. That’s a lot of work and effort to “throw away”, but less than six months in I realised the world of corporate law wasn’t for me.

I wanted a role that would allow me to make a difference and, just as importantly, one which would allow me to be there for my young son.

The role of Living Wage Accreditation Officer seemed like a perfect fit for me on both fronts. The added flexibility has been a huge boost to our family life and, at the same time, it’s been exciting to be part of this unique movement. To my knowledge, this is the first and only campaign that started with a small third sector organisation and now, not only has buy-in from across the political spectrum, but is also effectively lead by employers from all sectors, including the sort of large private sector organisations we too often assume are only interested in profits.

I’ve actually lead on our public sector engagement whilst I’ve worked on the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative. It’s been an elaborate landscape to get to grips with. Complex regulations about public procurement, the sheer number of different types of public body and the complexities of the social care sector all played their part. However, I’m delighted to see the progress we’ve made since I started in March 2015. In that time, we’ve accredited over a quarter of Local Authorities in Scotland; the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Strathclyde; numerous public bodies such as Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Water and CalMac and of course the Scottish Government itself.

It’s clear the public sector in Scotland is well and truly behind the Living Wage and I’m hopeful that the remaining Local Authorities and public bodies will soon join the movement too.

As well as leading on the public sector, I’ve also accredited a fair number of private sector companies over the past year or so. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this sector is something I touched on earlier. We don’t have high enough expectations.

With public sector organisation, we all agree they have a responsibility to act in an ethical manner. With private sector organisations on the other hand, there’s a common acceptance that they will always act with profits at the forefront of their minds.

“What do you expect, they’re a big company.”

“Of course they put profits first; that’s what the private sector always does.”

I believe this kind of thinking is wrongheaded.

We have every right to expect companies to act ethically, and when we expect otherwise we do a massive disservice to all of the fantastic private sector employers striving to do the right thing.

It’s maybe ironic that I left the private sector to make a difference and now here I am championing the virtues of the private sector, but lots of employers in the private sector act ethically. We should expect such behaviour from them all.

So with a year and a half of working with a wide array of employers across Scotland behind me, and, with a bit of luck, a long career in policy and learning ahead, leaving the law was definitely the right decision for me. I can only hope the decision to move on to this new role with Who Cares? Scotland works out as well.

I will, of course, be maintaining a keen interest in the Living Wage movement and I’m sure this cross-sectoral employer-lead success story will only go from strength to strength.

Food Insecurity, Europe and Solidarity

Mary Anne MacLeod, Research Officer at the Poverty Alliance, reflects on a recent conference in Brussels to launch the network for the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. The conference took place before the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU….

“The European Union is first and foremost about people” stated EU Commissioner Marianne Thyssen as she opened the conference for the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived in Brussels on 2nd and 3rd of June. Visions of a ‘social Europe’ or the role of the EU in tackling poverty failed to get much attention in a referendum debate dominated by arguments over immigration and the economy. As we come to terms with the aftermath of the vote, the chaos and emotions of an impending British exit from the EU, I reflect here on my experiences at an event which brought together organisations supporting some of Europe’s most deprived and marginalised citizens.

The conference marked the launch of a network for organisations across EU member states which receive monies from the Fund for European Aid for the Most Deprived (FEAD). To offer some background to the fund, FEAD was set up following demand for continued funding for food assistance when the EU Food Distribution programme for the Most Deprived Persons (MDP) came to an end in 2013. Established in 1987 and part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the MDP was designed as an economic rather than a social intervention, intended to make use of food surpluses (the ‘food mountains’ of the 70s and 80s) without distorting markets. Reforms to CAP and rising food prices in the early 2000s meant the redistribution of surplus food, from an economic and agricultural perspective, were no longer required and MDP was stopped. However, under pressure to continue to address the social demand for food aid, the EC has committed 3.8 billion euros to this new programme – FEAD – for the six year period 2014 – 2020.

FEAD provides funding in three different areas: food assistance; basic material aid (such as toiletries); and social inclusion activities. Different member states are able to choose the types of activities they want to fund. A map shows where different types of services are being funded. It appears that countries such as Sweden and Denmark which have traditionally strong social security systems tend to use FEAD to fund non-material assistance and activities aimed at reducing social exclusion. For example, in Denmark the fund is used to focus on the social inclusion of the most marginalised and homeless, those with very sporadic or no contact with social services. In countries where statutory support is often much less established, such as in Italy which has no minimum income scheme, FEAD monies are used to provide food and other essential items to people directly. Italy receives the largest proportion of FEAD (670 million euros), 60 per cent of which is used to provide free food, and which also funds provision of school materials for deprived children. The UK Government, which received widespread criticism for choosing not to use FEAD to fund food banks, has drawn down only 3.9 million euros from FEAD which is intended to fund breakfast clubs in deprived areas – although it appears that this funding is yet to be allocated. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland chose not to participate due to the small sums involved and the administrative effort required.

While the conference largely focused on discussing the practical delivery of FEAD funding, several speakers made the point of highlighting the limitations of the programme as a tool for tackling poverty. One in four of the EU population is at risk of poverty, and nine per cent experience severe material deprivation. The total FEAD budget, as noted by one panel member, is the equivalent of one euro cent per day per EU citizen living in poverty, for the six years which the programme runs. It is therefore important to be realistic about what the fund can achieve. Professor Jan Vranken from the University of Antwerp emphasised that FEAD alone is not in a position to reduce poverty and in his presentation focused on the importance of effective economic, labour market, education and housing policies, and of a robust social security systems as protection against poverty.

In my research on food poverty and food bank use in Scotland I am concerned about the impacts of stigma and shame – the importance of choice and control over food access and consumption for individual identify and agency. Such issues were not tackled directly by the conference but I noted a couple of comments made by delegates during discussions which point to frustrations of limiting anti-poverty work to handing out food: “If I go to Estonian citizens, they don’t say – ‘I am so happy I receive food aid’ – we should dream bigger” (Estonian delegate); “finding money for food [aid] is easy, but it’s not what people want – they want to live” (Italian delegate).

The main aim of the conference was to facilitate networking – sharing good practice and identifying common challenges been organisations delivering FEAD funded activity in different countries. Having coordinated networking events on food poverty and food aid in Scotland, I know how valuable it is to have opportunities to exchange ideas with those working in other contexts and I was impressed and inspired by the discussions between frontline workers from across Europe. A sense of common purpose and of solidarity is essential for addressing poverty. My hope for this network is that it is able to become more than an exchange of practical advice on the delivery of services which, while important, can only ameliorate the worse symptoms of poverty. I hope that through building relationships with each other, anti-poverty workers across Europe are able to grow in solidarity and help identify and call for the kinds of social and economic policy solutions required to tackle the structural drivers of poverty – working towards achieving that vision of a social Europe which does indeed put people first. It is vital that post-Brexit, anti-poverty campaigners in the UK remain part of that work and are able to continue to show solidarity with colleagues across Europe in the fight against poverty.

The Europe Anti-Poverty Network is organising a post referendum discussion seminar on the 8 July in London. For more information and to register click here

 

 

Carers and Scottish Election 2016 – An Afterthought?

Lynn Williams, unpaid carer and former third sector worker looks at what Scotland’s five parties have said on carers in the run up to the Scottish elections

The election manifestos are out, the leaders’ debates are over and we are in the final run up to the Scottish Elections.

I have watched each debate and listened to the parties’ pitches a little more closely than normal this time as many of the pledges made (outlined in the Poverty Alliance’s excellent summary!) had a particularly personal resonance for my husband and I.

There is a specific reason for this; this weekend, I became (technically anyway) a full time, unpaid carer for my husband. This means that our household finances will face a massive hit and – overnight – my contribution to the economy becomes pretty worthless, if mainstream economists have their way.  In statistical terms, I am just another 40 something woman who has left her career behind to plug the ever widening gap in care.

I do this willingly, because I want to be there for my husband who faces deteriorating mobility and health.  I am one of the 40% (State of Caring, 2015) who give up work to care between the ages of 40 and 54.  In place of income, these carers receive  a pitifully low income replacement benefit in Carers Allowance and labour market policies, more often than not, forget all about us. Carers Scotland’s “Caring and Family Finance” survey suggests that as carers give up work to care or move into lower paid, lower skilled work to balance their caring role, one third will experience a £20k drop in family income. Women carers tend to have to give up work at the peak of their careers, with long lasting consequences in relation to poverty, ill health, pensions and poorer career prospects should their caring journey end.

There are over 700,000 carers in Scotland and this election has been one where – with a few exceptions – the reality of our lives in providing over £11 bn worth of care has rarely been acknowledged. A carer friend once said to me “my back is so sore from politicians who keep patting it”. I would say that for many carers struggling with poverty level benefits, that sums up this election. There are some glimmers of hope with the promise to substantially increase Carers Allowance from the Greens and Rise; and the idea of returnships, proposed by the SNP may well be prove to be an important step forward in addressing the barriers that women carers can face when seeking to return to the labour market.

Wider pledges e.g. to scrap the 84 day rule for DLA, will of course impact positively on the wider family of claimants, and this leads me to my final point – political parties often do not create “nuanced” messages about how particular pledges can specifically improve the lives of carers – or indeed other groups in society. Furthermore, when they produce targeted manifestos, these documents just re-hash the bigger election messages, but give no sense of how each commitment might impact positively on the group in question. Sometimes, it’s not obvious but consider how the extension of childcare – promised by most parties – might benefit families with disabled children (if the provision is more accessible); the promise to invest in education could directly benefit children with disabilities who so often lag behind their peers. In many pledges, some deeper thinking can ensure policies resonate with different groups who might feel that, thus far, they are not important in #SP16.

Each of us is likely to find ourselves providing unpaid care at some point in our lives and it remains a gendered issue.  Unless the nature and structure of our economy changes, women who leave the labour market to care will always face an uphill struggle to claw back what has been lost; their families will be more likely to experience poverty.  Carers will be looking to the Scottish Parliament and the new Scottish Government to directly involve us in shaping the action to make election pledges reality.  There are over 700,000 votes up for grabs and as carers become incredibly cynical about politics, we should not be an afterthought. We want to work with you, if you’ll let us.

The Party Manifestos & Poverty: What you need to know!

In this blog Carla McCormack, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the Poverty Alliance, gives a whistle stop tour of the five main political party’s election manifesto anti-poverty commitments…povertystickers2

The party manifestos are out, and we have brought together the key commitments related to tackling poverty so you can see how they compare to the Poverty Alliance’s manifesto demands. Remember, this is designed only as a guide, and is not an extensive account of each party’s manifesto.  We recommend that you read the original manifestos too!

The SNP

In their manifesto, the SNP have committed to creating a new Scottish social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart.  With new powers, they have also pledged to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and maintain disability benefit levels while also making the assessment process fairer.

To help tackle child poverty, the SNP have promised the introduction of Finnish style ‘baby boxes’ and the establishment of maternity and early year’s grants. Alongside this they will provide free school meals to all two, three and four year olds who benefit from increased nursery entitlement.  Furthermore, the SNP have committed to investing £750m in a Scottish Attainment Fund, and increasing the child allowance within the Council Tax Reduction Scheme by 25 per cent.  They have also said that they will implement the recommendations of the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality.  They will also re-appoint an Independent Advisor and establish an Inequality Commission to advise the government and monitor progress.

On welfare reform, the SNP have committed to opposing welfare reform at its source.  They have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and restore entitlement to housing support for 18 – 21 year olds.

The SNP have said they will build 50,000 new affordable homes over the lifetime of the next parliament, and will introduce a Warm Homes Bill.

Moving towards work and employment, the SNP have promised that all social care workers will be paid the Living Wage by October 2016, and the number of Living Wage employers in Scotland will have doubled to 1000 by November 2017.  They will increase the number of Modern Apprentices to 30,000 per year by 2020 and will create new jobs grants for young people.  Companies which practice tax evasion or blacklisting will be excluded from bidding for public contracts under a future SNP government.

The SNP have also committed to extending participatory budgeting and encouraging communities to take advantage of the Community Empowerment Act.

Scottish Labour

The Scottish Labour Party has promised that if in government that they will fund a breakfast club in every school, and extra funds for poorer pupils.  They will increase the top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 per year to create a Fair Start Fund.  Scottish Labour has said they would ensure childcare was affordable, flexible and affordable, and would double the maternity grant for new mums.

They have committed to a new employment service, Skills Scotland, which would offer training for workers and unemployed people.  The have also said they would set up a Living Wage Commission tasked with making Scotland a Living Wage nation and to end the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts.  Labour has also pledged to ban those who avoid tax from bidding for public contracts.

On local authority funding, Scottish Labour have pledged to scrap the council tax, and to devolving tax raising powers such as a tourism tax, a land value tax and a surplus from the crown estate.

Labour has promised to build 60,000 affordable new homes across the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament including 45,000 for social rent.  They have committed to stopping cuts to public services.

On welfare reform issues, they have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and protect the right to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.  Scottish Labour has also promised to build choice into the Scottish Welfare Fund – offering people the choice of cash or goods.

Scottish Labour has pledged to scrap the 84 day rule for carers allowance and disability benefits.  They have also said they will use new powers to support pensioners using off grid energy to bring forward the payment of their Winter Fuel Payment.

Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives have promised to extend childcare hours to one and two year olds from deprived communities.  They have also committed to closing the attainment gap via standardised testing and greater freedom for schools.

They have said they will halve the disability employment gap, and will increase funding for the work choices programme.  On disability benefits, the Scottish Tories have committed to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and they will fast track applications for those with terminal illness.  They have promised choice in Universal Credit over frequency, split payments and housing benefit.

The Scottish Conservatives have said they will build 100,000 new homes in the next five years, and will work to reduce fuel poverty.

On local authority funding, the Scottish Conservatives have promised an independent review of funding mechanisms.

Scottish Green Party

The Scottish Green Party’s manifesto contains a commitment to giving public money only to those organisations which pay the living wage, avoid zero hours contracts, support trade unions, reduce the pay gap between the highest and lowest, practice gender pay equality and are environmentally responsible.

On social security, the Greens have said they will use new powers to top up child benefit.  They have committed to split payments being the default for Universal Credit, and expanding the sure start maternity grant to include second children as well as extending the eligibility criteria.  The Greens have promised to improve maternity and paternity grants, and provide high quality child care.

On disability benefits, the Scottish Green Party has said it will increase Carers Allowance to £93.15 and introduce a young carers grant, as well as reducing the number of hours threshold to qualify.  They have also said that there would be immediate support available for those claiming disability benefits, and they would abolish repeat assessments for those with chronic or degenerative illness.  Paper, online and telephone procedures will be used to replace face to face assessments.

The Greens have said they will build 12,000 new social homes; they will also use empty homes and vacant land.  On local authority funding, they will replace the council tax with a land value tax.  They have said they will introduce rent controls, and work to end fuel poverty.

The Scottish Green Party has said they will continue to push for the devolution of Access to Work and will guarantee the work programme is not delivered for profit.  They will campaign for the new work programme to include a clause which prevents it from sharing information with the DWP which would lead to people being sanctioned.  The Greens are supportive of calls for a gender quality in business scheme and will ensure that all care staff receive a ‘living wage plus’ of more than £9 an hour.

They have also committed to closing the attainment gap, and have said there will be a jobs guarantee for school leavers.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat manifesto commits to investing in education, money for which will be found by increasing income tax by 1p.  They have said they will invest in a pupil premium and expand early years education.  There will also be greater flexibility within free school meals so that parents can choose whether this is breakfast or lunch.

The Lib Dems have said they will use the power to create a new benefit to help people who are at risk of losing their job, or entitlement to other benefits because of mental health issues.

On childcare, the Lib Dems have promised to implement the findings of the commission for childcare reform.

They have said they will create a fair social security system, which is accessible and based on the principles of dignity and respect.  Like the other parties they have also committed to abolishing the bedroom tax, and have pledged to raise Carers Allowance in line with Job Seekers Allowance.  The Liberal Democrats have also said they will introduce Finnish style baby boxes, and retain the housing benefit entitlement for 18-21 year olds.

They have said they will pilot of carers leave for Scottish Government staff and support the development and provision of special health checks for carers by GPs.  The medial assessments for disability benefits will be made to take into account fluctuating medical conditions, and the Work Programme and Work Choices, will be replaced with new employability programmes.

On housing, the Lib Dems have promised more social housing, and to revise the empty homes strategy.  They have said that they will give councils power over local domestic and business taxation.  They have also said that they will allow housing benefit to be paid directly to landlords.

Your choice

There are real choices to be made on May 5th, and we hope that the electorate will use their vote to help tackle poverty. Our analysis of the manifesto’s highlights that all of the political parties are committed to actions that should help address poverty and inequality. These commitments are to be welcomed, but of course they should be read in the context of the other proposals that each party has made in their wider election manifesto.

It’s also clear that in some areas there are shared priorities for tackling poverty. We hope that the shared goal of tackling poverty and addressing inequality will mean that the parties can work together after the election to bring about real change. Too many people in Scotland struggle by on inadequate incomes, too many face uncertainty in their employment, and too many cannot access the services that will help them and their families out of poverty.

Over the next five years we will have real opportunities to begin to change this, to use new and existing powers to transform lives. We hope the next Parliament will act as one to make this transformation, and put the fine words into action. The Poverty Alliance and our members are ready to support, and hold to account, whoever is prioritising action to address poverty.  As always, we believe that with real political commitment, we can begin to turn the tide on poverty in Scotland.

 

Tackling Welfare Reform: Rejecting Blame, Promoting Resilience

Dr. Rosalind Tyler-Greig from Inclusion Scotland blogs on the impact of welfare reform on disabled people as part of Challenge Poverty Week 2015.

I was delighted to join the team at Inclusion Scotland earlier this month to lead their Rights and Resilience project. The project is a response to the recent package of social welfare cuts which have affected disabled people, and the litany of negative rhetoric about benefits claimants – a significant proportion of whom are disabled people – which has poured out of our media. The project will try to mitigate some of the negative impacts of welfare reform by sharing accessible information, providing training and resources, and raising awareness around welfare rights.

This is important because discussion of disabled people’s rights has been drowned out recently by stories which tell us benefits are expensive and that a large swathe of claimants are ‘chancers’ who are not entitled anyway. These stories re-write financial hardship and poverty as somehow acceptable, as the true deserts of the lazy and un-ambitious. I blogged recently about the role of benefits in compensating disabled people for the barriers they face in society – barriers that persist, and have even been added to as the compensation is being removed. In this post I will highlight the stories which try to justify this, and which move the attack beyond the financial and target the personal resilience of disabled people.

The first story is that ‘lots of disabled people are probably not really disabled at all’ and we should be terribly suspicious about claims for disability benefits. We hear daily about the people who ‘fake’ disability, the ‘cheats’ who cost us millions of pounds a year, the local campaigns being run to ‘tackle’ cheats, and the infuriating number of ‘fraudsters’ avoiding prosecution.

This has meant that disabled people being re-assessed for the new disability benefit feel exceptional pressure before ever submitting a claim. The world is staring suspiciously at them, and they are waiting to be ‘caught out’ and declared ‘not disabled’, a ‘fake’ or a ‘cheat’. They are worried they might have misunderstood something in one of the complex forms they’ve had to fill in, and now be held to account. They are worried about losing some or all of the money which helps them participate in society.

So are the people who lose out not disabled after all? Not quite. Disability benefits have simply become more difficult to get. For example, to qualify for the highest rate of mobility support a person must be unable to walk 20 metres unaided. Under the previous scheme, a person had to be unable to walk 50 metres unaided. At Inclusion Scotland, we estimate that by 2018, over 80,000 working age disabled people in Scotland will lose some or all of their mobility allowance. Impairments will not change, barriers will persist, but the resources to overcome those barriers will be given much more selectively.

Another story is that ‘benefits cost too much’, and the bill should not be footed by hard-working folk who have been sensible enough to earn good wages and lucky enough to have avoided any limiting impairments or health conditions.

In actual fact, almost all the money given out in benefits is taken back in tax. And the poorest households pay the most taxes when we account for everything that is taxed. Because of the types of things that taxes are then spent on, better off households benefit much more from taxes than poorer households. With 20% of households containing a disabled person living in poverty, disabled people are in fact disproportionately losing out in this system. Out-of-work and disability benefits do not even form the most significant portion of the benefits pie because 47% of the benefits bill is actually spent on pensions. Overall, the idea that we have a generous benefits system which needs to be capped to stop lazy people taking advantage is, as the Centre for Welfare Reform puts it, ‘ludicrous’.[1]

A final, and disturbing, tale is that ‘disabled people should work their way out of poverty’ because it is not the government’s job to stop them being poor. This was the advice of Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith – a man who has never had to use his own ‘services’ (or apparently ensure they work properly for others). IDS has not experienced exhausting conditionality. He has not had to live on a meagre amount and try to remain healthy, fed and warm, and able to find suitable work at a rate his government approves of. He has not experienced discrimination in the job market because he is disabled and may have access needs. Unfortunately, IDS is not so much telling a story as giving a directive – a directive which does not take into account the barriers which disabled people face, but expects people to find resources and stay well in increasingly hostile circumstances.

The overall story we are being told about disabled people is one with suspicion and lack of compassion at its core. It is not coincidental that we are now seeing more and more examples of hostile attitudes towards disabled people from their non-disabled peers. This news story gives one example. Inclusion Scotland’s Welfare Reform Research also highlights examples of disabled people being verbally assaulted by non-disabled people and being made to feel like second class citizens. In a climate where disabled people are targeted by cuts, we need a culture of solidarity. We need to find ways – together and individually – to boost disabled people’s capacity to cope. And a good starting point is rejecting the stories which try to cast disabled people as underserving and a drain on resources.

Inclusion Scotland’s Rights and Resilience project is working to uncover and promote some of the different ways in which the adverse impacts of welfare reform experienced by disabled people can be mitigated. We want to discover what can boost the personal resilience of disabled people. This could be about anything from great services and accessible information to supportive people and local networks. If you would like to share something which has helped you personally, or which your organisation is doing, we’d like to hear from you. You can find out how to get involved here.

[1] http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-az/who-really-benefits-from-welfare.html

The Cost of Being Disabled: Why Welfare Reform Cuts Deeper with Disability.

Dr. Rosalind Tyler-Greig from Inclusion Scotland blogs on the impact of welfare reform on disabled people as part of Challenge Poverty Week 2015

At 30 per cent, the poverty rate for disabled adults in the UK is twice that for non-disabled adults.[1]  This means that the experience of being disabled all too often goes hand-in-hand with the experience of poverty. It is of little wonder then that the welfare reform agenda has made a devastating contribution to the lives of disabled people – already more likely to struggle financially and now facing an onslaught of targeted cuts.

Disability brings a long list of daily expenses that non-disabled people are less likely to be troubled by.  It was recently reported that disability alone can cost around £550 per month.[2]  So, why is disability so expensive? There are a number of reasons. Inclusion Scotland’s 2015 Welfare Reform Impacts Guide, for example, highlights some of the impacts which visual impairment has had for one couple:

“our clothes get caught in things and ripped … we can’t cut our grass so we’ve got to pay someone … We’ve got windows to clean … Everything has to be paid for. But people don’t understand because people can do these things themselves. We can’t.”

It is not only people with visual impairments who may have to pay those types of expenses. Physical impairments or immobilising health conditions can also mean that people need to shell out for extra everyday expenses.  For example, there are extra heating and electricity costs associated with the need to use washing machines more often or recharge electric wheelchairs; and there are travel costs where people rely on taxis because buses are inaccessible.

Of course, all services come at a cost. But even the basic personal care which some people require daily is no exception. In Scotland, local councils charge people for any social care services provided at home or in the community.[3]  This might be help with bathing or getting dressed, doing the housework, or taking part in community activities.   And the amount a person has to pay varies depending on where they live. For example, the hourly rate for care in West Lothian is £8.28, but in Angus this jumps to £23.70.

Disabled people are under specific financial pressure. Covering the ‘basics’ does not always just mean the weekly shop. It can also include many important parts of personal care and the daily routine – and indeed, getting to shops in the first place.  It also doesn’t help that access to affordable care is a bit of a postcode lottery. A campaign has been organised in Scotland to draw attention to this and to advocate for equal and affordable care for all who need it.

You may now be thinking, ‘but disabled people receive benefits to pay for care’.  And you would be correct. Indeed, the purpose of disability benefits – such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is to help pick up the bill for these extra costs. To ensure that people are not left isolated, or hungry, or lacking basic care, if their health or impairment restricts their ability to work or move around easily.  However, while around 189,000 Scots disabled people of working age were receiving DLA in November 2014, it is estimated that by 2017/18 56,000 will have lost their entitlement completely and a further 49,000 will have partially lost out.[4]  The impairments or conditions people live with will not have changed, but tougher assessment criteria will mean that they have to find other ways to foot the bill disability leaves them with.

PIP is paid whether you are in or out of work, but ESA is only paid to those out of work. And another great barrier for disabled people is the world of work.  Disabled people are far less likely to be employed – in Scotland, the employment rate for working age disabled people has fallen to 43.9%, compared to 80.9% for their non-disabled counter-parts.[5] This isn’t because disabled people are less interested in work, either. In fact, out-of-work disabled people are more likely to want to work than non-disabled people who are unemployed.[6] And Inclusion Scotland’s report earlier this year corroborated this. If only employers could see past the ‘disability label’ and realise that impairments come in all shapes and sizes and are often not too difficult to accommodate.  Moreover, an Access to Work fund is in place to pay for the adaptions an employer needs to make to accommodate a disabled employee. However only around 2% of working-age disabled people in Scotland currently use this fund, so it needs to be better promoted.

As a result of being either too ill to work, or overlooked because of prejudice and rigidity in the labour market, disabled people are more likely to rely on the social security system as a whole and are therefore affected by a multitude of cuts. In fact, severely disabled people are affected by up to 19 different social security cuts.[7] This, together with the expense of disability, is a fast-track route to poverty. When benefits claimants are slated in the media or by our right-wing government, the attack is massively directed at disabled people who did not choose their position in society. When we think claiming benefits is some kind of lifestyle choice, we have swallowed a poisonous rhetoric. We have forgotten the reasons people receive benefits, and the reasons they might have no choice.  Worst of all, we are tricked into thinking that those living in poverty deserve it. They don’t.

[1] Employers’ Forum on Disability, via English Federation of Disability Sports 2015 http://www.efds.co.uk/resources/facts_and_statistics

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/think-im-living-the-high-life-on-benefits-heres-what-being-disabled-costs-me-every-day-10486682.html

[3] That is, any care which is not provided in a residential care setting.

[4] See Inclusion Scotland’s response to Committee’s Call for Evidence: The Future Delivery of Social Security in Scotland

[5]  Labour Force Survey, ONS Feb, April 2015 (not seasonally adjusted).

[6] http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/key%20facts.shtml

[7] Simon Duffy (2014) Centre for Welfare Reform

“Getting tough” on refugees creates a hostile environment for all of us

Jamie Stewart from the Scottish Refugee Council writes about the UK Government’s approach to asylum seekers and what this means for us all.

The UK government wants to “get tough” on asylum seekers and to create a “hostile environment” for some migrant populations.  But with so many barriers already in existence to refugees in the UK, can the blame for the UK’s problems really be pointed to refugees and what does this rhetoric mean for the state of social support in the UK?
As we continue to witness the largest global movement of displaced people since records began, the profile of refugees have rarely been higher.  The outpouring of compassion which arose around the tragic coverage of individuals seeking refuge in Europe may have focussed government minds on the need for action on Syrian refugees.  However, it appears not to have stemmed the flow of rhetoric seeking to blame refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants for Britain’s ills.  More worryingly, this rhetoric has been backed by further action restricting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, compounding problems of poverty, homelessness and inequality.
Poverty has long been a reality for refugees and asylum seekers.  Financial support rates for asylum seekers remains low and, in August 2015, asylum support rates for children were cut by 30% to £36.95 per week, bringing them in line with the general support rate that adult asylum seekers have struggled on for many years.   Barred from working, thousands of asylum seekers rely on this money and can remain in this position for several years.  Around two thirds of asylum applications will be rejected – although on appeal many of these rejections will be overturned suggesting the first decision was the wrong one. Only some of those refused asylum will get a cashless Azure card while awaiting deportation or for their case to be re-examined.  Others will end up destitute.
Securing status in the UK does not end the cycle of poverty.  Over 95% of new refugees need to make applications for mainstream benefits upon gaining their status  although most new refugees do not have a National Insurance Number.  Consequently, it takes around a month for new refugees to secure their benefits – over two months for claims for child benefit anf child tax credit.  Therefore, many refugees experience an extended period of destitution as they seek to resolve their benefit problems.
Most disabled refugees are unable to claim Personal Independence Payment due a 2 year UK residency requirement and there is a clear gender divide.  Proportionately more women claim Income Support, Employment Support Allowance and child-related benefits – those benefits which take the longest to process.  Men are more likely to be the “main applicant” in an asylum claim and are, therefore, allocated a National Insurance Number through the Home Office.  This means that, invariably, the man in a couple is the main claimant for all benefits, creating the possibility for exploitation and control in relationships.
Benefit sanctioning is a major issue with the majority of sanctions occurring soon after status and to those who have the least English skills.  Refugees rely heavily on discretionary funds such as the Scottish Welfare Fund and charitable funds from the Refugee Survival Trust and Scottish Refugee Council in order to survive in this transition period.
Homelessness is built in to the asylum process.  As accommodation comes to an end upon all successful asylum decisions, at least 92% of refugee households will be made homeless when they are given their status.  Tight timescales and a lack of material resources preclude many refugees from securing accommodation in the 28 days they are given to vacate their accommodation leaving new refugees at risk of street homelessness, sofa surfing and unsatisfactory housing conditions.   The links between homelessness, poverty, poor health and poor outcomes has been well established, presenting further barriers to individuals’ progress.
Although these facts paint a grim picture, it is important to look at what is happening to refugees within the wider context.  After all, refugees are only one group amongst many that have been demonised by successive governments.  The long term unemployed, the disabled, single parents and those with alcohol or addiction problems, to mention a few, have come under attack with consequent restrictions on their rights and entitlements.   Refugees and migrant groups are especially vulnerable to some of the more egregious of these changes and have been the guinea pigs for the introduction of schemes that the government would like to be established more widely.  Cashless Azure cards are a prime example of this but restricting the right to work, suppressing financial help, destitution, restricting support for disabled people, making learning a condition for benefits and restricting the right to rent a home could all be seen in this light.  They are tools with which to manifest blame.  And that is something we should all be standing up to.

Further details on how homelessness and poverty is affecting refugees in Scotland can be found in Insights into Integration Pathways: New Scots & The Holistic Integration Service.

Challenging Poverty in Australia!

jill_langOne of the inspirations for Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland has been a similar initiative in Australia. Below Jill Lang, National Co-ordinator of Anti-Poverty Week, describes the development over more than 10 years.   

Anti-Poverty Week in Australia was established in 2001 by the Social Justice Project at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and was inspired by the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17) and an inquiry into poverty by the Australian Senate. The Project’s Director, Julian Disney, is a former President of the International Council on Social Welfare and has been National Chair of the Week since its inception.

The Week quickly grew to be an Australia-wide program with nationally-coordinated leadership groups in each State and more than 450 activities each year. In 2014, more than 600 organisations convened or sponsored an activity during the Week. They included welfare agencies, community centres, overseas aid organisations, religious groups, schools, libraries, technical colleges of further education, universities, businesses, service clubs, unions, disability organisations and youth organisations.

Anti-Poverty Week is concerned with poverty around the world, especially in the poorest countries but also in wealthier countries such as Australia. The main aims are to

  • strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and within Australia;
  • encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.

The Week aims to encourage as many people as possible to express publicly their interest and concern about poverty and hardship. It seeks to demonstrate in this way that, contrary to assertions by many politicians and media commentators, most Australians are concerned about these problems and want action taken to address them.

In this way, the Week can increase potential support and reduce potential opposition for specific actions that may be advocated by particular organisations during the Week or at other times. This is enhanced by trying to involve as many people as possible from outside the welfare sector and other traditional sources of anti-poverty activists.

Anti-Poverty Week is a process for encouraging independent activities by a wide range of groups and people. There is a special emphasis on encouraging activities at the local community level, however modest or predominantly “social” in nature they may be, and also activities by “conservative” groups not usually associated with anti-poverty activism.

The Week’s areas of concern include ways of preventing people from experiencing poverty or hardship, as well as ways of helping people to escape from or reduce the impact of poverty and hardship. It covers a wide range of the causes and symptoms of poverty and hardship, including, for example, issues relating to health, education and housing.

Over the last 14 years Anti-Poverty Week in Australia has demonstrated the importance of showing solidarity with people living on low incomes and has highlighted what can be done to address the problem of poverty by a wide range of groups and organisations. We hope that Challenge Poverty Week will have the same success and together we can turn this into a global initiative.

To find out more visit Anti-Poverty Week. Remember to get involved in Challenge Poverty Week, which runs from the 17th to the 23rd of October. 

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But we’re not talking about someone buying the same shoes as you here. What the Government attempted to do in the recent Emergency Budget was to co-opt a social movement, a campaign rooted in the communities and workplaces, and use it to hide the fact that they are subjecting thousands of low paid workers and their families to further misery. Let nobody be under any illusion that the Chancellor’s budget was “pro-work” – what he is giving with one hand, he is taking back with the other, and then some.

It goes without saying that we will always welcome a rise in wages for workers. However, the new NLW rate of £7.20 is actually what the Living Wage rate was four years ago. So good news if you have a time machine and can go back to 2011, not so good if you are trying to get by in 2015.

The Living Wage – as set by the UK Living Wage Foundation – is based on thorough independent research which reflects public perception of what a low cost, but acceptable standard of living looks like. It’s about being able to participate in society – to live, not just exist.

The rate set by Government is a judgement of what the “market can bear” – it has little to do what individuals need to live on. The main concern is what effect it will have on the economy and the job market – not on individual lives.

You do not need to be an economist to work out that boosting pay by £4bn is not going to fill the £12bn chasm left by the simultaneously announced cuts to benefits[1]. Low-paid workers tell us that they are struggling to get by on their income now, so how are they expected to cope when the tax-credit reduction kicks in and leaves them worse-off, irrespective of any raise to their hourly rate?

Young people have borne the brunt of austerity measures with high youth unemployment, and low pay, zero hours and exploitative employers when they are in employment. And to add insult to injury, under 25s will not get this higher rate of pay, and under 21s will not be eligible for housing benefit. So if you are under 21 and in a low paid job, where does that leave you? Not everyone has a safe, loving home to move back into. Even if you do, why should young people have to bear the brunt for the UK Government’s attempts to cut welfare spending? We have met young people who are the sole earner in their household, who have additional caring responsibilities on top of their paid employment – where is their pay rise?

As a campaign, we need to ensure that we continue to highlight the difference between the increase in the National Living Wage for some and the actual Living Wage. We need all our partners and supporters to ensure they highlight the importance of having one clear independent calculation based on the cost of living.  At the same time we should support campaigns like SCoWR to fight for a decent welfare system that supports people both in and out of work. And most importantly, we need to ensure that we continue to encourage more and more employers to pay the actual Living Wage so that we can make a real difference to the lives of low paid workers.

[1] http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/analysing-the-national-living-wage-and-its-impact-on-britains-low-pay-challange/