Scottish National Party – outdoing 'I, Daniel Blake'

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Recent successful court judgments against the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have drawn attention to the onerous process of mandatory reconsideration before a claimant who has received a benefit sanction can go to a Social Security Tribunal. Mandatory reconsideration applies to any DWP decision not just to sanction those on Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment Support Allowance, but also to decisions on Personal Independence Payments. Introduced in 2013, the purpose of mandatory reconsideration is to make life as difficult as possible for a claimant. The decision under appeal remains until the mandatory reconsideration process is complete; it may take weeks and the target is to uphold 80% of original decisions. Social Security Tribunals, on the other hand, grant more than 50% of appeals. Some welfare powers are now being devolved to Scotland, and it is apparent that despite many declarations to the contrary, the SNP government is determined to retain the same two-stage system.

In January 2017, SNP Welfare spokesperson Jeanne Freeman blathered about the shocking impact of the Ken Loach’s 'I, Daniel Blake' film and said the SNP would make the system in Scotland 'fairer, more humane.' However, when its Bill appeared, leading academics and figures from the voluntary sector immediately recognised that the SNP had dressed up the dreaded mandatory reconsideration appeal system as 're–determinations'. The very system that in its cruel and bureaucratic cynicism grinds down and ultimately kills Daniel Blake, is being included in the SNP proposals and disguised with new terms.

Professor Paul Spicker, a specialist in welfare administration is quite clear about this:  'It's not true to say that the system is not being based on what the DWP does. The two-stage process was only introduced in 2013, and this bill also includes a two-stage process...Their policy memorandum gives the same justification for a two-stage process as was given for mandatory reconsideration.' The SNP claims it is concerned that appeal tribunals will be inundated. This was the original DWP justification for mandatory reconsideration.

The SNP government has announced that 800 jobs will be created in Dundee as the city inherits the site for the new Scottish Welfare agency. The number of jobs created is vastly exceeded by the number of vicious welfare sanctions - again so accurately represented in 'I, Daniel Blake' - handed out by DWP staff in the city. In the run-up to the independence vote Dundee had the highest number of sanctions issued in Scotland and still has the busiest foodbanks. Those who sanction the unemployed and disabled at the Wellgate Job Centre will be looking forward to promotion and an escape from the militant campaigners from Dundee against Welfare Sanctions who make their stand outside the centre.

The SNP is proving to be just as harsh as previous Labour and Conservative governments when they launched their attacks on welfare. In fact, it is worse: the SNP has proposed to criminalise the welfare claimant system by making people in Scotland liable for up to five years in prison for benefit fraud if they 'ought to have known' that a change in circumstances might mean their claim was affected. This goes much further than the legal basis of charges in England. Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: 'The section in the new social security bill on investigations and offences is unduly punitive. The reasons people may mislead ministers about their circumstances are complex and we should focus instead on addressing these reasons rather than imprisoning people.' The Scottish National Party has outdone the Tories and Labour in their new approach to the welfare system, its hypocrisy must be exposed and challenged!

Michael MacGregor