Ken Macintosh MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 04 March 2015 : Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab)

The minister gave an impressive list of parking facilities and transport links. Does she believe that, once they are all delivered, that will solve the problem?



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab)

We will shortly vote on the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill. I hope and expect the chamber to be unanimous in its support for the measure.

I thank all those whose speeches have brought us to this stage, the minister and her team, Welfare Reform Committee members and the third sector and anti-poverty organisations that offered their expertise. In particular, I want to thank, as Christina McKelvie did, Lynn Williams from SCVO, as well as Hanna McCulloch from CPAG, for their support, advice and forbearance. Perhaps most important of all, I thank the many individuals with direct experience of welfare who shared their personal life stories and their insights on being on the receiving end of the Scottish welfare fund.

This is not a particularly earth-shattering piece of legislation; nonetheless, it is an important one. I do not want to shatter Mark McDonald’s belief that it was somehow all invented by SNP ministers, but it was the Conservatives and the Liberals who decided to devolve the former DWP-administered social fund to local authorities in England and to pass on to us the power to decide how to provide the support in Scotland.

Ministers have, for the most part, done the right thing. They have topped up the fund and made the welcome change of moving from a system of loans to one of grants. There have also been a number of practical reforms, such as replacing the DWP administration with the service provided by our local authorities and establishing an independent appeals mechanism. It is fair to say that the appointment of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to conduct the task was not greeted with unanimous approval, as Michael McMahon said, but there is some optimism that it will prove effective.

I thank the minister for responding to at least some of the stronger concerns raised about the bill. The Scottish Government’s original proposal to allow the administration of community care grants and crisis payments to be outsourced or privatised struck most observers as particularly ill-founded. I thank the minister for recognising the danger inherent in such an approach and the unacceptability of profiting from social misfortune even if, much to our amusement, her SNP colleagues on the committee seemed more dogmatically and unquestionably loyal to the Government’s original will than to the evidence before them.

There was not a huge amount of movement from the minister at stage 2, but I thank her for at least acknowledging some of the arguments and, for example, tempering the powers of the ombudsman to pursue claimants. I also add my thanks to her for accepting my amendment 6 on moving to a 24-hour deadline.

However, I also want to express my disappointment—my misgivings, perhaps—over our approach to the legislation. This is one of the first bills to lay the foundations of welfare in Scotland. We are about to get many more such welfare powers and Malcolm Chisholm talked about the significance of devolving more welfare powers to Scotland. Yes, there has been a nod in the right direction, but it is critical that we get the principles right from the start. I am not convinced that we have, even though the words “dignity” and “respect” are in the bill.

When it came to what that means in practice—when it came to offering welfare claimants some sort of say, choice or control over their own treatment, the minister balked at the prospect. Several members spoke about that, including Michael McMahon, Sandra White and Joan McAlpine; there was also a very interesting speech from Annabel Goldie. I will not rehearse the whole argument, but it demonstrates the two sides to this Administration.

I have no doubt that the minister wants to talk the language of progressivism, and I have no doubt that she and many of her party colleagues see themselves broadly as social democrats, but I worry that many of the actions of this Government are conservative with a small “c”. SNP ministers often seem more concerned about not rocking the boat—not upsetting people—than they are about making the radical change that is needed with the powers that they already have at their disposal. The minister and colleagues such as Kevin Stewart never seem happier than when they are turning an issue on which we can make a practical difference into a constitutional impasse featuring—by and large—the big bad bogeyman, Westminster.

In this case, my fear is that, by replicating the old social fund, we are doomed to replicate some of the faults of the current welfare system. We know that that system and, to a greater extent, the welfare reforms that were introduced by the Tories are overly judgmental. Inadvertently or otherwise, the current system can demean rather than empower, and I am not convinced that we have done enough to put the needs of individuals at the heart of our thinking.

I recognise that these are difficult decisions at a difficult time. When our welfare system is under attack, as it is from the current Conservative Government, in some ways our first duty is just to hold on—to defend what we have got and to stop the vulnerable being further undermined and subjected to political interference. However, by not fully grasping the importance of the principles that are at stake, by not adopting a more rights-based approach and by not looking at the fact that, whatever the original intent of welfare to tackle the big evils of want, squalor and poverty, in some ways it has become a sop to the fact that we now live almost permanently with long-term mass unemployment, we are almost accepting our willingness to live permanently with poverty in our midst. I do not believe that we are prepared to do that or that that is the point of welfare. It should be there to help people to get back on their feet. It should be there as a support. It should not be judgmental, nor should it stigmatise, yet I think that we are in danger of doing exactly that.

The bill is just the first of several new measures. I hope that the Scottish Government will reconsider its approach as we develop welfare powers in Scotland, and that we will all think again about what we are trying to achieve in the long term. We need to think about how we treat the vulnerable in our society, what status we give them and how we can best help them. On that note, I believe that we should support the bill, because of the benefit that it will bring to the people of Scotland.

16:52  

Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab)

Will the member take an intervention?



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

We support the amendment. The minister recognised the disproportionate nature of the powers to be granted to the ombudsman, and amendment 1 arose as a consequence. I welcome it on behalf of the Labour Party.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

We are putting in place a new system for welfare, and I believe that we should have the information to be able to scrutinise and hold the system to account; the Parliament in particular should have a formal role to play in that. I remind the minister that, despite the heated exchanges so far, there is generally broad agreement about the bill but there are concerns about, for example, the underspend of resources in certain areas, gatekeeping by some local authorities and whether information about protected characteristics has been gathered. I urge the minister to accept the idea of a process of review and to give Parliament a role in that. I support amendment 8.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

I echo the point that this is about getting the principles behind the bill right. This is the first of a series of bills implementing a new welfare system in Scotland, so it is important that we get the principles right.

The minister accepted a stage 2 amendment on dignity and respect, which was lodged by Kevin Stewart. However, she left out the needs and the choices of the individual, yet that is very much in keeping with Scottish Government policy.

The Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013 talks about individuals being able to “make an informed choice”. The Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014, through integration principles, encourages integrated health and social care services to take account

“of the particular needs ... and circumstances”

of individuals. The NHS quality strategy mentions “improved patient choice”. What is wrong with having the word “choice” as a principle in the bill?



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

Thank you very much, minister—it turns out that I was not too optimistic.

Amendment 6 agreed to.

Section 5A—Respect for, and dignity of, applicants for assistance



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

I hope that amendment 6 is slightly less contentious or that it will provoke slightly less reaction than the other two amendments seem to have. I say to Mr Johnstone that I may be being too optimistic.

The effect of amendment 6 would be to ensure that decisions on applications for crisis grants should be made immediately when possible and, if not immediately, by the end of the next working day in any event.

As some members will know from evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee, under the interim Scottish welfare fund local authorities have 48 hours in which to process a claim. However, under the previous DWP scheme, the deadline was 24 hours.

The issue first came to light when figures were presented to the committee that revealed that the interim fund was not meeting applicants’ needs as timeously as the previous scheme. For example, the figures for the old DWP crisis loan system show that payments were made in two days in 98.5 per cent of cases. That compares with a figure of just 94 per cent for the Scottish welfare fund.

The point was picked up by a number of voluntary and anti-poverty organisations. For example, Quarriers highlighted its concern that, if a 48-hour deadline is to be applied,

“an application that is made on a Friday or a Thursday ... may not be processed until late on Monday.”—[Official Report, Welfare Reform Committee, 7 October 2014; c 4.]

That would be after the weekend.

The strongest evidence probably came from the Child Poverty Action Group, which said:

“In the experience of our advisors, applications for crisis loans made over the phone were processed very quickly by the DWP. Delay was sometimes caused by difficulties getting through on the phone in the first place but, once connected, the process was generally very quick. Decisions were often made at the end of the initial phone call, with the claimant given an office from which an award could be collected on the same day. This also happens with some (though not all) SWF crisis grant applications.”

CPAG concluded:

“there is no implicit reason that processing times should be longer in relation to crisis grants”—

that is, under the new system—

“than they were for crisis loans. We are also concerned that the reference to a 48 hour time limit once all relevant information is received may lead some decision makers to request evidence when it is not needed.”

In other words, although this is clearly not the minister’s intention, the 48-hour backstop will become a target that will inadvertently have the effect of slowing down the process rather than speeding it up.

In her remarks to the Welfare Reform Committee, the minister suggested that she was going to consult actively on the area and that she intended to think carefully about the issue before including it in regulations. Has the minister had time to think about the matter further? Can she share any of those thoughts with members? If not, I urge members to support my amendment 6, which would replace the current 48-hour backstop with the original 24-hour timescale.

I move amendment 6.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

Very well, Presiding Officer. I will press the amendment.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Ken Macintosh

I see that the back benches seem very comfortable to sit on for Mr Salmond when he is challenged.

I suggest to the minister that she did not answer any of my questions.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12521.2 Jackie Baillie: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendme
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YesDefeated

S4M-12521.1 Gavin Brown: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendment
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12521.3 Willie Rennie: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendmen
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12521 John Swinney: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—That the Parliame
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12495 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12491.2 John Swinney: Privacy and the State—As an amendment to motion S4M-12491 in the name of W
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12491.1 Richard Simpson: Privacy and the State—As an amendment to motion S4M-12491 in the name o
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12491 Willie Rennie: Privacy and the State—That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government’s c
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12492.2 Jamie Hepburn: Mental Health—As an amendment to motion S4M-12492 in the name of Jim Hume
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12492 Jim Hume: Mental Health—That the Parliament notes that one in four people will experience
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YesCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Ken Macintosh
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-12265: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12241.1: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
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 >>
Search for other Questions asked by Ken Macintosh
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Question S4W-24724: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/03/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24551: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24554: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24553: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24552: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24531: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24532: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24530: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24509: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24510: Ken Macintosh, Eastwood, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/02/2015 Show Full Question >>