The aim of the study is to explore the impact of on-going welfare changes on a range of households in Scotland over time. This report provides a review of the literature and presents the results of the first sweep of interviews which took place from September 2013 to January 2014.
The research is concerned with those in receipt of working age benefits and addresses the impact of the current benefit reforms and new rules including the Benefit Cap; changes made to the payment of Housing Benefit (HB) relating to under-occupancy; changes to lone parents’ obligations when their youngest child reaches the age of five; Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the forthcoming changeover to Personal Independence Payments (PIP); and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The research also addresses participants’ opinions about the move to Universal Credit (UC), including a shift to monthly payments, and the move towards making all claims through an online system.
Forty three individuals have taken part in the research, each with different reasons for claiming benefits. Participants were recruited to the study from across Scotland, including rural and urban areas and the major cities, and had a range of demographic and other characteristics.
Key findings from the research include:
• Participants in the study often found it difficult to access appropriate, clear and concise information about benefits and impending changes to benefits.
• The current administration of benefits can be inconsistent and stressful, and inconsistencies were reported in how Jobcentre staff dealt with claimants.
• Most of the study participants reported struggling to manage financially. The current system does not appear to be meeting people’s financial needs, and participants reported making difficult choices about which essential household items to prioritise.
• Participants all identified the stigma attached to being in receipt of benefits, and all believed that wider society looked down on them as a result of their benefit claimant status.
• The movement of increasing numbers of disabled people and lone parents onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) could be problematic, as the current JSA regime does not appear to adequately take into account the needs of all those with specific barriers to employment, and as a result does not effectively help them into employment.
The report makes recommendations, based on the experience of participants. These include:
• Better communication from Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Jobcentre in relation to benefits;
• Improved administration of benefits;
• Consideration of the level of benefits and the cost of living for those on a low income, and the need for quicker intervention for those who are struggling to cope, to prevent crises rather than just responding to them;
• There is continued need for policies to mitigate some of the adverse impacts of specific aspects of welfare reform; for example the social housing occupancy rules, and specific circumstances such as lone parenthood;
• Stigmatising messages from the media about welfare claimants need to be countered.