Ben­e­fits prob­lems leave me so an­gry

East Kilbride News - - NEWS -

I don’t get an­gry all that of­ten; or maybe come to think of it, I’m just quite good at hid­ing it most of the time!

I’ve been an­gry this sum­mer, though, and no hid­ing it.

I am an­gry and de­spair­ing at the way peo­ple get treated by the UK wel­fare sys­tem – that is, badly.

We all know that there have been harm­ful wel­fare cuts, of­ten to the most vul­ner­a­ble. We are aware of court judge­ments that have deemed the UK Gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions dis­crim­i­na­tory to those with dis­abil­i­ties.

We all know that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds mit­i­gat­ing the worst ex­cesses of the so-called ‘wel­fare re­forms’, de­spite bud­get cuts passed on to Holy­rood.

For a long time now, my con­stituency of­fice in the town cen­tre has been deal­ing with a ris­ing num­ber of en­quiries from con­stituents who feel that er­rors have been made, or wrong de­ci­sions ap­plied, by the UK De­part­ment of Work and Pen­sions.

Gen­er­ally, front­line staff at the DWP have been help­ful, recog­nis­ing er­rors, will­ing to help; usu­ally through a phone call from my of­fice to the ‘res­o­lu­tion helpline’, a hot­line to of­fi­cers who re­spond to queries from mem­bers of par­lia­ment.

There are times, too, where con­stituents have been able to come to my of­fice and speak on the phone with the ‘res­o­lu­tion helpline’ so that a sit­u­a­tion could be fixed with min­i­mum fuss and stress for the client in­volved.

At the start of July, this all stopped.

All of a sud­den, with no no­tice, we were in­formed that no longer would this ser­vice be avail­able to mem­bers of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment – now we are told queries must be in writ­ing, that signed man­dates are re­quired, that they don’t know when re­sponses will be given.

Note that I say ‘told’ – there has been noth­ing in writ­ing, ei­ther to mem­bers of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment or in­deed to those lo­cal DWP of­fi­cers who work on the front­line. No won­der I’m an­gry! We are talk­ing here about cases where mis­takes have been made, where agreed pay­ments have not been re­ceived; cases of peo­ple with phys­i­cal and men­tal bad health; peo­ple who can­not pay their bills, peo­ple who can­not af­ford to heat their homes; peo­ple who are hun­gry and have no food in the house.

I wrote to the UK sec­re­tary of state for Work and Pen­sions at the be­gin­ning of July and then again in Au­gust about this change in prac­tice.

I high­lighted how dif­fi­cult this new process is for con­stituents. I high­lighted her own de­part­ment’s guid­ance which clearly states how queries through mem­bers of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment should be dealt with.

The only re­sponse I’ve had is to say that the re­sponse is de­layed be­cause of the West­min­ster par­lia­men­tary re­cess!

Well, blow me – how dare stressed or hun­gry res­i­dents of East Kil­bride in­ter­fere with the min­is­ter’s hol­i­days!

To­day, as this col­umn is printed in the East Kil­bride News, marks 20 work­ing days since my last let­ter to the West­min­ster Gov­ern­ment.

If no re­sponse, in­deed if no change in pro­ce­dure, I’ll be writ­ing again.

This time I’ll be high­light­ing some of the cases that we’ve been deal­ing with in my of­fice in Strath­more House:

●Claims sus­pended be­cause pa­per­work not sent in – well, it had – twice in one case;

●Regis­tered dis­abled ap­pli­cants hav­ing to make ad­di­tional jour­neys to sort out er­rors not of their mak­ing;

●Agreed ben­e­fits not be­ing trans­ferred to bank ac­counts; ●Sanc­tions wrongly ap­plied. The stress that all of this causes to peo­ple is im­mea­sur­able, and avoid­able if com­mon sense, com­pas­sion and care is ap­plied.

Surely that’s not too much to ask.

We all know that there have been harm­ful wel­fare cuts, of­ten to the most vul­ner­a­ble...

No way through Linda Fabi­ani says MSPs can no longer use the res­o­lu­tion helpline ser­vice to re­solve is­sues with the De­part­ment of Work and Pen­sions

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