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ENABLE Scotland > Blog > Posts > The independence White paper and the welfare state: More of the same but better?
December 04
The independence White paper and the welfare state: More of the same but better?

The white paper on Scottish independence has created much debate, discussion, and disagreement since it was released. There are many important discussions and decisions to be made between now and referendum day, and one key issue for our members will be what the welfare state might look like in an independent Scotland.

It is important that our members and supporters engage in the debate to help inform how they might vote on referendum day.

Chapter 4 of the white paper outlines the vision of the welfare state in an independent Scotland and contained three ideas that may prove popular with ENABLE Scotland members and supporters.

1. Abolish the Bedroom Tax

2. Halt the roll out of Universal Credit

3. Halt the roll out of the Personal Independence Payment.

The bedroom tax has been strongly criticised by many organisations, ENABLE Scotland included, as an unfair policy that will push many of Scotland’s disabled into poverty.

 The new systems of Universal Credit and the Personal Independence Payment have attracted much criticism for being impractical and unresponsive to the needs of many people who require the support of benefits.

One major change that is perhaps likely to attract less attention, however, is the proposal to ensure that benefits and Tax Credits increase in line with inflation.  This is a significant departure from current UK Government policy where two recent decisions have reduced the real terms income of benefit recipients.

In 2010, the UK Government changed the method used for calculating the annual increase in the rate of benefits from the retail price index (RPI), to the consumer price index (CPI).  At the time of introduction, this meant that benefits were uprated by the CPI rate of 3.1% rather than the RPI rate of 4.6%. This move was criticised at the time by the TUC who called the move “insidious”. 

In 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 this change will be compounded when many benefits are subjected to a 1% uprating cap. To put this change into context, it was estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions that the 1% cap would affect 30% of all households in the UK, and that the majority of households receiving benefit would be affected.

The DWP went on to estimate, that the average loss for each household would be £3 per week, but also, that those who have the least income would not only be more likely to be affected, but would be likely to have higher than average losses.

Whilst disability benefits and disability related elements in means tested benefits have been protected from the 1% cap, it is worth remembering that these will still be uprated by the traditionally lower CPI rather than RPI.

It would seem then, on welfare reform at least, that the proposals are positive; but are there negatives?

Critics of the white paper have argued, that the proposals in the paper are unaffordable and made based on assumptions of the outcomes of negotiations that would have to take place should Scotland vote yes.

It could also be argued that the white paper is a missed opportunity. Whilst the proposals would bring some popular changes, it would still see the welfare state remain largely unchanged. The Work Capability Assessment, poor standards of DLA decision making and sanctions are just some of the issues that would remain in place.

Whilst the welfare state will be just one of the man y issues that voters will have to consider, it does raise a fundamental question about our welfare state whatever the outcome of the referendum.  Do we really want to see more of the same, or do we want to see radical change to the social security system?

ENABLE will shortly be responding to a Scottish Government consultation on the future of the welfare state, and we would be keen to hear the opinions of our members and supporters on their vision of a future welfare state in both an independent Scotland, and a Scotland which remains part of the UK.

Does the welfare state need reform, and if so what should those changes be?

Any comments or opinions can be sent to welfare.reform@enable.org.uk.


  
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