The Scottish Welfare Fund is a discretionary payment allocated by local authorities and funded in part through the UK Department for Work and Pensions and topped up by the Scottish Government. This is because the DWP transfers the funding for the scrapped Community Care Grant and Crisis Loan, both of which the DWP used to administer, to the Scottish Government:
“On 1 April 2013, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) abolished two elements of the Social Fund – Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans – and transferred funds previously spent on them to Scottish Ministers. In its place, the Scottish Government established the Scottish Welfare Fund”
(Scottish Government, 2016a)
So the SWF is funded by the UK government (via taxes – which are then transferred to ScotGov) and then topped up by the Scottish Government. It is widely seen as the Scottish Government’s response to welfare reform, but given it is funded by UK Gov this is a little misleading – even if some (the lesser amount) is provided directly by the Scottish Government, since most of the funding for the SWF still comes from the UK government. This means that:
“For 2013/14 and 2014/15 [the amount provided by the DWP] amounted to £23.8 million. The Scottish Government topped this amount up by a further £9.2 million, giving the Scottish Welfare Fund a total budget of £33 million for both these years. This level has been maintained in 2015/16 by the Scottish Government at £33 million”
(Scottish Government, 2016a)
So, given that ScotGov has championed the SWF and many in Scotland have seen the SWF as an indication of both the ScotGov’s unwillingness to cut welfare and their resistance to such cuts enacted by the UK Government, I was surprised to see this in my mailbox at work, from Glasgow City Council:
“Glasgow City Council has seen a reduction to the Scottish Welfare Fund allocated from the Scottish Government in 2016/17. Further reductions are also expected into future years”
(Glasgow City Council, 2016)
Now, this is surprising – particularly since, having loudly championed the SWF (a cynic would say this was as much about making the UK government look bad – which requires little effort anyway – as mitigating the impact of cuts to welfare on people living in Scotland), the Scottish Government have said little about this cut (lending credence to the more cynical), instead leaving local authorities to announce it individually. Why is the SWF being cut? Is there less funding from Westminster, or can ScotGov not make the top-up they have in previous years? Essentially, why has the same level of funding not been maintained and why is it expected to drop in coming years?
Looking at the bigger picture, what does this indicate about the Scottish Government’s commitment to social welfare, particularly since some welfare powers are soon to be devolved to Scotland? This includes responsibility for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – will we see a cut in provision of these benefits, intended for adults and children with illness and disability that require extra support?
The Scottish Government seem to be cutting welfare before they even have their hands on it – and given the DWP guarantee the larger element of the SWF, you have to ask if it is ScotGov’s contribution which has been reduced, leading to the reduction in funding to Local Authorities. If that is the case, why aren’t the Scottish Government using their overspend, which has occurred for the past three years, to boost SWF funding?
As someone who voted Yes in the Scottish Independence Referendum I’m conscious that had the vote been in favour of independence, Scotland would be an independent country as of this year. Given the current reduction to the SWF, what might have occurred in a Scotland where the whole welfare system is under the Scottish Government – would we now be seeing cuts across the board to match Tory cuts to the UK welfare system? This is the crux of the problem for me regarding the SNP – we will never know how capable they really are until they can no longer resort to blaming Westminster – and by that point it would be too late, should their performance be less than satisfactory. That’s a chance I was willing to take back in September 2014, but now I’m not so sure.
The SNP sell themselves on a ticket of progressive politics and social equality, but that doesn’t seem to be their practice (yes, they are more progressive than the Tories, but that says very little – they aren’t any more progressive, or socialist, than Labour in power under Corbyn might be, but this is an unknown at present). With further welfare powers and responsibilities to be devolved, we’ll soon see the SNP’S true colours – I hope they stick to the principles they championed during the IndyRef and ensure a fair and secure welfare system for Scotland, and in doing so put people first.
As always, thanks for reading.
Scottish Government (2016a) Scottish Welfare Fund Statistics: Annual Update 2015/16. Official Statistics publication for Scotland.
Scottish Government (2016b) Social Security for Scotland: Benefits being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. SSFS slidepack update, July 2016.
(Disclaimer: Any criticism of the Scottish Government or the SNP is usually perceived as an attack by some SNP supporters. Let it be noted that I am not currently affiliated with any party, either as a casual supporter or a paid member. This article isn’t intended as a political attack, but to highlight potential issues in the future of Scotland’s welfare system and to hold the Scottish Government to account on this matter – whichever party might be in charge – in the interests of everyone living in Scotland)