This week, the Scottish Parliament put the welfare of people in our local communities at the heart of its agenda, when the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill was passed in the debating chamber.
In my Aberdeen South and North Kincardine constituency, lone parents have been particularly hard hit, with new research showing that lone families across Scotland will be around £1,800 worse off annually, as a result of Westminster welfare cuts.
And this is before sanctions are taken into account. The SNP have called for a full independent investigation into these measures amid reports that Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff are pressured into applying sanctions. Research published by the Scottish Government in 2014 found that the proportion of sanctions applied to lone parents increased from 0.5 per cent in 2008/9, to 4.8 per cent in 2013/14.
Claimants of unemployment benefits must meet certain conditions so that they remain entitled to benefits. If they are not met, claimants receive a sanction meaning that benefits are stopped for a period of time. Sanctions aim to motivate claimants to find work, but claims to the contrary must be investigated.
Since 2013, action has been taken with the Scottish Welfare Fund stepping in to help more than 8,000 lone parents across Scotland suffering from welfare cuts. Also with Council Tax benefit cuts and measures put in place to mitigate the Bedroom Tax, the overall loss for a lone parent in Scotland is £180 less for parents with one child, and £270 less for parents with two children, compared to the UK average. There also tends to be a disproportionate impact on women.
But families are still feeling the pinch across Scotland, and we need to do all that we can to improve their opportunities. Food banks across Aberdeen, run by the Trussell Trust, FareShare and others, are testament to the fact that the well-being of some of the most needy in our society is not being taken seriously enough. Scotland’s welfare state must be fit for purpose.
The Scottish Welfare Fund has already helped over 100,000 households since it was set up in April 2013, and the Welfare Funds bill will set the fund in stone to ensure this vital help continues.