Ken Macintosh MSP

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Ken Macintosh MSP

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Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab)

Thank you very much, convener—[Laughter.] They seem to have turned up the microphones since I left the committee.

I congratulate both Margaret McDougall and Kevin Stewart on amendments 24 and 30, and I speak in support of amendment 24 in particular. It is good that we are starting this morning’s discussion with an overview of what the bill is trying to achieve and the principles underpinning it. In some ways the bill is a simple and pragmatic measure to replace the social fund, but it also offers the Scottish Parliament the opportunity to lay down the direction of travel, putting dignity and respect at the heart of our thinking on welfare.

As more powers come to the Scottish Parliament giving us responsibility for welfare, it is important to establish what sort of welfare state and what sort of society we wish to build in Scotland. It is important that those principles are part of the bill.

I support both amendments 24 and 30. Amendment 30 in the name of Kevin Stewart uses the words “respect and dignity”, and I would be interested to hear what the minister makes of that.

I was slightly concerned that Mr Stewart did not support Margaret McDougall’s amendment 24 and, in particular, that he seemed to hesitate over the word “choice”. Treating people with dignity and respect is about allowing them to exercise choice. It is not about people choosing to make demands on the fund, because that would simply be about choice within the decisions that the local authority had already made. It is about choice in a local authority

“exercising its functions under sections 1 to 4 in respect of an applicant”.

In other words, it is not about an applicant choosing to make demands; it is a requirement for the state to ensure that, in assessing their needs, it listens to the applicant’s views and allows them to make a choice from the choices that are open to us as a society. It is an important word.

10:15  

Not only is choice an important word; it is the word that the Scottish Government used in a previous measure. The reason why Margaret McDougall lodged amendment 24 is that it copies the wording and principles that the Scottish Government put in place in the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013. We thought that, if it was good enough for that act, it was good enough for the bill, too.

To reply to the point that Annabel Goldie made, as with any act the matter would be open to judicial review. If an applicant felt that their dignity and respect were not upheld by the way that they were treated, they would be open to take the matter to judicial review. That is a difficult course of action, but it would be the course and I have confidence—as I am sure Annabel Goldie does—in the courts’ ability to interpret our legislation.

I certainly do not think that applicants are likely to abuse the sanction of judicial review. It is important that we state the principle and that, therefore, local authorities and others who implement the bill are aware of the principles and have the sanction of judicial review in the back of their minds. That will make them more focused on ensuring that we put the principles into practice.

For those reasons and because the proposed measure has been supported by the wider voluntary sector—the SCVO and the many others that Margaret McDougall quoted—it is important that we take the step. I recommend that we support amendment 24.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

Do I get a vote?



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

As we know, the bill places no restrictions on the circumstances in which a local authority can decide to make an award in kind to an applicant; that is, in goods or vouchers, rather than in cash. Amendment 25 would not prevent councils from doing so, but would simply enable the Scottish Government to produce regulations detailing the circumstances in which a local authority could make a non-financial award.

The power could be used to ensure, for example, that local authorities take applicants’ circumstances and preferences into account in deciding the nature of the award, and—following on from our previous discussion—to ensure that the applicant has more say and more choice in the process.

It is clear from the discussion on the previous group of amendments that all colleagues on the committee, and the minister, share my belief that the principles of dignity and respect should underpin our approach to welfare in Scotland. On the other hand, it is unfortunately clear in the evidence from witnesses who gave evidence to the committee that a more common experience for people who rely on state support at times of difficulty is that they feel judged and stigmatised, and are made to feel small.

Every bit as important—if not more so—than the principles that we state is how we put them into practice. We heard direct evidence that for people using vouchers or tokens in local shops the experience can be stigmatising and embarrassing, and can undermine applicants’ sense of dignity.

In some circumstances, non-financial awards may be the most practical and cost-effective way of meeting applicants’ needs. However, we also heard that such awards can be problematic and difficult. We heard, for example, that issuing vouchers instead of cash can undermine a family’s ability to achieve best value by budgeting, spreading payments or shopping around for goods. Items that are awarded do not always meet the identified needs of the applicant and their household. Disabled applicants and other people who have very specific needs may be better placed than the local authority to identify and purchase items that meet their needs. For families in rural areas, the ability to find a shop that takes vouchers is likely to be limited, as well as stigmatising.

Surely our intention with our approach to welfare in the bill is to build up resilience by, at the very least, leaving as much choice as possible in the hands of the recipient. The minister and I do not get paid in furniture or tokens: if we were, we might feel offended or patronised, so why should we be surprised if applicants for welfare feel similarly? Are we trying to make people feel worse or give them a hand up in their time of need? The SCVO briefing put it well:

“For many, having cash to buy what they need is by far the best option—not least because it gives people some semblance of control and dignity at a time when they cannot control the factors which have led them into hardship.”

Whatever our good intentions, what is also clear from the voluntary sector organisations that gave evidence is their concern that in-kind awards from the fund seem to have become the default position. Only half of all crisis grants and less than 20 per cent of community grant awards are made by way of cash, cheque or direct bank transfer.

If people are looking to furnish a flat and need a whole pack of goods, a community grant award might be the best option. Amendment 25 does not rule that out: I want to make it clear that the amendment would not disbar local authorities from providing support in kind rather than in cash. The amendment will allow the Scottish Government to specify the conditions that would need to be satisfied before a non-financial award could be made. Such an approach would not prevent local authorities from making awards in kind, but it would ensure that proper consideration was given to the needs of the applicant in each case, and that decision making was more transparent. It would also provide recipients with a clear basis on which to challenge unsuitable awards and any lack of consideration on the part of local authorities.

I move amendment 25.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

I have been both slightly encouraged and slightly discouraged by the debate. First, I am slightly concerned that I perhaps did not explain, or that people misinterpreted, my proposed approach. Amendments 25, 26 and 28 would not restrict a local authority’s ability to provide goods in kind. They would put the onus on authorities at least to consider giving a cash award first, and they would allow the Government to stipulate the conditions under which in-kind awards could be made. There would be no restriction of freedom whatever.

I did not follow Annabel Goldie’s logic when she suggested that amendment 25 would restrict the choice that was sought in amendment 24. It would not do so. It echoes exactly the principles that we were trying to promote through amendment 24: choice, dignity and respect. My proposed approach does not contradict those principles—



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

Why not?



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

It is clear that Annabel Goldie has totally misunderstood the effect and intention of amendment 25: it would not do what she suggests. It would instead give the local authority the ability to take all the needs of the applicant into account, rather than patronising the applicant by deciding that the local authority knows best. I repeat that that is exactly how we can put dignity and respect into the bill in practice. If we mean what we say when we talk about respecting people in our welfare system, we must treat them as we would treat anyone else in society and give them an element of choice.

The approach is supported by the Child Poverty Action Group, Poverty Alliance Scotland, SCVO, Inclusion Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland. We heard evidence from many people—Oxfam was very good in that regard—that in any society support is better given in cash because doing so builds resilience, dignity and respect. That is as true in Scotland as it is in any other country.

Amendment 25 does not insist that authorities give cash.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

Is that all right, convener?



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

I am happy to take the intervention.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

If I may say so, Mr Stewart, I am looking for far more than common sense: I am looking to put dignity, choice and respect into the bill in terms of both principles and practice.

I will give an example. I was in Aberdeen yesterday, and I visited Instant Neighbour, which I am sure Mr Stewart knows well.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : 27 January 2015
Ken Macintosh

It is a fantastic example. It is an organisation that has been around for 30 years that supplies people with exactly the goods that we have been discussing—furniture packs, furnishings, floor coverings—and assists people when they are moving into a house. However, the local authority no longer allows welfare fund applicants to use Instant Neighbour, but instead insists on bulk purchasing brand new items from a place in Broxburn. I am sure there is nothing wrong with that, but the goods are cheaply made, mass-produced items and they do not last.

The effect is that Instant Neighbour ends up putting reconditioned goods into landfill, which is environmentally unsustainable, all choice is removed from the applicants and an organisation that has been around for 30 years—it is a social enterprise and it employs great people in Aberdeen—no longer gets to provide the service and no longer gets money going into the local economy. That is an example in which I question the decisions that have been made.

In any case, however, under my amendments, both choices would be open to local authorities. I have specifically stated that. In many circumstances—for example, a young man moving into a flat for the first time—what people want is not money but somebody to say, “Here’s a pack of goods. Here are the furnishings, the plates, the crockery and the cooker that you need.” If that is what they want, they will be able to choose that. They would be asked and their views would be taken into account. In the end, the decision would still be for the local authority, but at least the person’s choice would be considered. That is what I am suggesting.

A number of other points have been made. Both the minister and Mr Stewart talked about cost-effectiveness as though what I propose would somehow place extra demands on the system. It would in no way increase the demands on the Scottish budget but would operate entirely within the cash limits of the system.

In health and social care, we are moving to self-directed support specifically because we recognise that the personalisation agenda is very good for people’s health and wellbeing. We have recognised that it is good for people’s health to have more control over the carers that they employ. Why cannot we apply exactly the same principle to welfare? Margaret McDougall and I are not saying that we should give people extra money; we are asking only that they be given a say and a bit of choice. If that is good for people’s health, surely it is good for their wellbeing, too.

I will end on a positive note. The minister acknowledged the spirit in which I moved amendment 25, and I agree with her that it is far more important for crisis grants than it is for community care grants. I was encouraged by her remark that she will consider putting the matter in regulations, so I look forward to hearing more at stage 3. That said, I hope that she will not mind if I press amendment 25 to a vote.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12182.1 Alex Fergusson: The Chilcot Inquiry—As an amendment to motion S4M-12182 in the name of N
>> Show more
AbstainDefeated

S4M-12182 Nicola Sturgeon: The Chilcot Inquiry—That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot’s offi
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12176 John Swinney: Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the gene
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12160.2 Michael Matheson: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Kez
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-12160.3 Margaret Mitchell: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Ke
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12160 Kezia Dugdale: Women Offenders—That the Parliament welcomes the decision of the Scottish G
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12154.1 Lewis Macdonald: Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) – Supporting Indivi
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12120.1 Jenny Marra: 2020 Vision, the Strategic Forward Direction of the NHS—As an amendment to
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-12101 John Swinney: Budget (Scotland) (No.4) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the general prin
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-12095.4 Ken Macintosh: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Ken Macintosh
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-12095.4: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11340: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11310: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11273: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10819: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 15/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10766: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10023: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09878: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 30/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09633: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08406: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 25/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Ken Macintosh
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4F-02534: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03913: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23889: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23890: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23406: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 24/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23407: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 24/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23382: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 21/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23190: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23186: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23093: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/11/2014 Show Full Question >>

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