Welfare cuts only stigmatise the poorest

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Danny Saviola is a welfare rights manager for See Change in the Borders

23rd May 2017 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Ever since I took up post as a welfare rights adviser I felt like a small boat against a very strong current. While I’m trying desperately to support people – many of whom are at their lowest ebb - we have a UK government actively implementing cuts to make life worse for these very people.  

I’ve seen more grown adults cry as a welfare rights adviser than I did in my entire career as a social worker. It doesn’t relent: they just keep coming; I’m dealing with more cases of poverty as more welfare cuts get rolled out.

Many who have seen their benefits slashed, capped or halted come to us as a last resort. What many don’t see is the once proud people relegated to quivering wrecks. They believe no-one cares, that they’ve not only been abandoned but proactively stigmatised because, for whatever reason, they require state support. That’s fundamentally wrong and it’s not the society I want to live in. 

I’m dealing with more cases of poverty as more welfare cuts get rolled out

I’m dealing with more cases of poverty as more welfare cuts get rolled out

Emergency food aid is our most frequent response. We refer clients to foodbanks but this is like prescribing a sticking plaster for major surgery.  When Scotland’s only Tory MP David Mundell came to Dumfries last year, he denied foodbanks were a result of need. Instead he propagated the myth  that because more are being established more people use them. Yet I’ve worked and volunteered in welfare rights all my working life and I’ve never seen such desperation among the average family.

There’s something wrong when a rich society can’t make full-time work pay let alone allow the most vulnerable on benefits a life without financial insecurity and stigma. Often when people come to me they think I can provide a solution. Often I can’t. It used to be the case there would be emergency payments or some form of grant. These have now all dried up. The cash has trickled to nothing and to be unemployed or disabled today means you face the likelihood of becoming destitute. 

There’s something wrong when a rich society can’t make full-time work pay

We have a small team of four based in the Borders. It’s not so much you need to be an expert in benefits and rights; you need to be more resourceful and know which organisations to signpost clients to.  Increasingly migrants and asylum seekers have come to the area and, more than anyone, these people need use of a range of welfare services. So it’s knowing who does what and where to go for specific advice and support.

Many think the new Scottish social security system will be a saviour. It won’t. As I constantly tell people: being on welfare support will never be easy no matter which government is in power. No society rewards the disabled, the unemployed, the infirm. It’s all wrong but it’s the way things are. What is unacceptable is continually hitting the most vulnerable financially. They are already at breaking point: they’ve got nothing left. Give them some assistance, some support and you’ll see that people who were previously written off will begin to help themselves.    

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