The proposed statutory scheme to provide crisis grants for people on low incomes and to support independent living has been supported by the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.
In its stage 1 report on the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill, the committee recognised the benefits that a statutory Scottish Welfare Fund could bring, but has called for some changes to ensure that the funds are accessible to everyone that needs them.
The bill would confirm the Scottish Welfare Fund to replace the social fund, abolished by the UK Government in 2013. The Scottish Government has operated an interim fund through the local authorities since last year and the bill seeks to put that arrangement into legislation.
Criteria are set out for local authorities awarding grants; however submissions to the committee raised some concerns that aspects of these criteria may have been drawn too tightly. The committee has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that all vulnerable people in genuine need can access the fund.
It is anxious to avoid the risk of stigmatisation of users of the fund, and believes that the fund could be enhanced by outlining the importance of the principles of dignity and respect for users as a key part of the regulations and guidance. As respects concerns over some authorities "gatekeeping" access to the fund, it recommends that the Government consider ways in which local authorities can better record all successful and unsuccessful enquiries to ensure that the situation can be monitored.
Committee convener Michael McMahon MSP said: “We have heard from people directly affected by the UK Government’s welfare reform programme. These are not so-called ‘benefits scroungers’ but genuine people, often in low-paid employment, experiencing crises and emergencies. This bill will enable local authorities to offer much needed assistance to people in real need of help. We have recommended some areas for improvement but overall, we support the Scottish Government’s work in this area.”
Deputy convener Clare Adamson MSP added: “We believe that this new scheme offers much needed reassurance for local authorities who will now be able to look beyond the interim scheme and develop firm resources, expertise and knowledge in taking forward the new welfare funds.”