People’s Politics GE2017: Our welfare system

After the horrific Manchester attack, the Church of Scotland cancelled a hustings event planned for the General Assembly. Instead we are now publishing three videos made for the event, along with responses to the questions they raise. The videos look at Brexit, the Environment and our welfare system.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council, says:

“The Church’s calling is to stand alongside people and to hear the voice of those to whom society may sometimes turn a deaf ear. These people are our congregations’ members, our colleagues and our friends.

“This General election we have asked three individuals to share their stories and to ask questions of our political leaders about how certain issues are impacting their lives.

“By placing these stories at the centre of the political discussion, we remind ourselves that politics is more than parties and tribalism it is about the lives of individuals and, indeed all of us, as we seek to enable human flourishing, a world that is more like God intends it to be.”

The first video features Debbie Leddie, 41, from Gourock talking about our welfare system.

Question: “I know of many, including myself, who would rather struggle with mental and severe physical disabilities than put themselves in a situation where they feel unsupported by the welfare system. What will your party do to ensure that individuals like me get the help and support that we need”

Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party

The creation of a welfare state, which aimed to achieve a society in which we all contribute fairly and we are all supported from the cradle to the grave, was one of the crowning achievements of the mid-20th century. After the Second World War, people could have been forgiven for feeling that the country’s problems were too great, too daunting to solve. But they had survived together, and what they then built together became something this country should have cherished. Instead we have allowed it to become a system which no longer ensures social security; rather it bullies people into low paid work, subsidises employers to pay poverty wages, and leaves behind the many people who aren’t in paid work for whatever reason. This current system also fails to acknowledge the positive value of things like caring, volunteering, learning, resting and recovering from illness. These are things we all do at times in our lives, and they are all important to us as people, and to our economy.

The Green approach would be to renew the social security system with the goal of ensuring everyone can live with dignity, free from the fear of poverty. This would be underpinned by a Universal Basic Income, replacing many bureaucratic aspects of the tax and benefit system and funded by a return to fair taxation so that the wealthiest in society pay their fair share. In addition we need properly funded public services for people who need extra help, including decent pay levels so that the people delivering those services can feel valued and secure in their careers.

Kezia Dugdale, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Labour built the welfare state and will always support it and protect it. Over the last seven years, a callous Tory government has cut support for the most vulnerable in our society to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest.

The most desperate in our society have been used as a scapegoat for ideological austerity that hurts the poorest. Labour would deliver a government for the many and not the few. The Tories have completely failed on their promise of making work pay and on tackling the barriers to work faced by people with disabilities.

Labour supports a social model of disability. People may have a condition or an impairment but they are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for people with disabilities. We will build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to people with disabilities in 2009 as signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and incorporate it into UK law. Labour will repeal Tory cuts in social security support to people with disabilities through a new Social Security Bill published in our first year in office.

We know that our health service is struggling to meet demand, with a growth in vacancies and waiting time targets being missed. Labour’s plans for investing in public services means more money for Scotland to tackle the problems that face our communities.

We know that addressing anxiety, welfare and other mental health issues in young people can be hugely beneficial throughout their lives. We believe that all secondary schools in Scotland must have access to a qualified and appropriately experienced school counsellor, providing accessible counselling to young people who need it. Sadly, the SNP government has continually refused our calls for this much needed support.

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

It’s important that the welfare system works and acts as a safety net for those who need it. My party will continue to operate the welfare system in accordance with our belief that work is the best route out of poverty, that work should always pay, and that the system should be fair both to the people in need of support and those who contribute to it through taxation.

I recognise that we must minimize any administrative complexity and make navigating the system easier. Universal credit has helped in this regard and we propose continuing with its roll-out during the coming parliament.

It is also important to note that the Scotland Act 2016 transferred significant new welfare powers to Holyrood. Now, Scottish Ministers will be able to design a welfare system they believe best fits the needs of people in Scotland and will be able to put in place the measures needed to pay for it.

This includes disability benefits. The Scottish Conservatives will continue to work with parties to design a Scottish disability benefits system that allows the government to support the most vulnerable people in our society in the best way possible

Nicola Sturgeon, Leader of the Scottish National Party

The SNP recognise the valuable contribution that the over one million disabled people in Scotland make to our communities and the talent, diversity and richness they add to our society. That’s why in Government in Scotland, the SNP are working towards establishing a Scottish social security system based on dignity and respect with the limited social security powers being devolved. Social security should be there for all of us in times of need. We are committed that the model of assessment in this new system – devised with the benefit of help from the experience panels, the expert group and our partners in health and social care – will be able better able to deal with mental health conditions and fluctuating conditions.

We’ve also announced that in Scotland under our new social security system that, unlike the UK Government system, private firms will be banned from carrying out benefit assessments. We believe that public funds should be used for public services, not for private profit.

In Westminster, the SNP acknowledge that transformational change is needed both in Scotland and UK wide in order for disabled people to realise their full potential. That’s why, as we set out in our recently publishedmanifesto, the SNP are committed to the ending the cruel cycle of welfare cuts, and SNP MPs will continue to call for the Scottish Parliament to have full control over all social security benefits. Only with full control over social security can we ensure that Scotland has a strong, secure safety net to protect the most disadvantaged in our society.

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Party

The Liberal Democrats are clear that balancing the country’s books on the backs of the poor and disabled, and demonising people who claim benefits, is neither acceptable nor responsible. We want to change the way that welfare works so that it is more sympathetic to people’s needs

Of course government budgets must be scrutinised but this must not be used as an excuse to attack the poor and vulnerable. And in any case it is more effective to tackle the causes of the benefits bill – low pay, high rents, unemployment and ill-health.

That’s why we will reverse unfair Conservative policies like reducing support for younger people and cutting the benefits of people not fit for work. We will reinstate the legally binding poverty targets of the Child Poverty Act.

Research from the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that Liberal Democrat policies are best for the people in the lowest income brackets of any of the UK parties. The reasons for this is that we will uprate working-age benefits at least in line with inflation.People have felt the squeeze for too long. We will lift the public sector pay cap that currently means millions of people are falling behind inflation. With a damaging extreme Brexit threatening to increase inflation even more, this policy is really important.

We will abandon the two-child policy on family benefits, and abolish the Conservatives’ ‘rape clause’ where a woman has to declare children that are born as a result of rape in order to access tax credits.

We will scrap the discredited Work Capability Assessment and replace it with a new system, run by local authorities according to national rules, including a ‘real world’ test that is based on the local labour market.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have fought tirelessly to reduce the historic inequality between the way physical and mental health are treated in the NHS and are proud of the strides forward we made.But we know that not enough resources reach front line services and that, in the fight for parity of esteem, there is still a very long way to go.

One in four people will suffer from mental ill health some time in their life. The cost to individuals, families, our communities and the economy is immense. The capacity and scope of existing services doesn’t come close to reflecting this need, piling pressure on other public services. Our fully costed plan will bring new mental health services to every GP practice, A&E department, police division and school. We have a new five point offer for new mothers who struggle with mental health around the time of the birth of their child.