Margaret McDougall MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall

Does the minister agree that local authorities are underfunded to administer the welfare fund?



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab)

I am the newest member of the Welfare Reform Committee and it has been a very interesting time for me to join the committee as the bill has made its passage through the Parliament.

This is a significant piece of welfare legislation and it is crucial that we get it right to protect vulnerable people. Therefore, I am disappointed that the Scottish Government decided not to support the Labour amendments today, because they promoted choice, openness and transparency and provided support to families under exceptional pressure.

The argument that my amendment on choice would put additional pressure on local authority budgets is frankly nothing more than a smokescreen. The amendment is effectively cost neutral and would allow a local authority to pay either in cash or in kind based on what the claimant would prefer and what would best suit the needs of that individual, after discussion with the local authority. It goes hand in hand with Kevin Stewart’s amendment that was accepted at stage 2, as choice is crucial to dignity and respect. My amendment was supported by the Poverty Alliance, which argued that the refusal to trust applicants with monetary grants increases stigma and can make an individual at a very low point in their life feel that they are receiving handouts rather than accessing legitimate support from the state social security system. It was also supported by the SCVO, which stated that the fund should be driven forward by choice and should set a benchmark for any future legislation.

Today, the Scottish Government had a choice, and it chose to ignore the calls of Scottish Labour, the Poverty Alliance and the SCVO.

It is also worrying that the Government has voted to block openness and transparency by refusing to support annual reporting. The Lib Dem member, Tavish Scott, made a good point. The legislation is new, and we should be looking at new ways in which to review and scrutinise it. In my view, we should do that with an annual report. The amendment was supported by the SCVO, which has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that the fund will be comprehensively reviewed and scrutinised by the Parliament, as set out under the provisions of the Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland) Act 2012.

I understand that that information will be collected and collated elsewhere, but I asked that the Scottish Government bring it in a specific annual report to Parliament to be reviewed and scrutinised. That would have given the Scottish Parliament a formal role to play in the process. We have already heard, for example, that there was a huge underspend last year. It is crucial that we set a clear benchmark for future legislation in the field. The bill was the opportunity to do that, given that the system is new and untested and that the bill is one of our first pieces of welfare legislation. I find it unbelievable that, even though that was proposed in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, it has been blocked today.

To conclude, I am disappointed that the Scottish Government decided to vote against Scottish Labour’s amendments, except for Ken Macintosh’s amendment on processing time, and all the amendments that were widely supported by the third sector. The Government has voted against the principles of choice, openness, transparency and supporting families that are under exceptional pressure. The bill was one to set the future standard of welfare legislation in Scotland. We have witnessed that the Scottish Government’s rhetoric does not match reality.

16:37  

Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab)

East Dunbartonshire Council said in evidence that it received £43,970 in administration costs, while the total cost of running the Scottish welfare fund in the area last year was £224,232. The funding gap had to be met by the local authority. There is a real issue with funding the welfare fund’s administration, which puts pressure on local authorities to ensure that they are looking for the cheapest but not always the best-value option.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall

Oh. May I just thank Alex Johnstone and Tavish Scott for their support? I had hoped that the minister would support having a specific report, given the importance of the welfare funds and the bill. I press amendment 8.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall

Amendment 8 relates to annual reporting. It would require the Scottish Government to prepare an initial report, giving information about the delivery of the welfare funds, that would be laid before Parliament on or before 30 June 2016. Subsequent reports would be laid before Parliament on or before the same date every year.

The initial report should include information on the amount that was paid out of the welfare funds; the number of applications that were received for assistance in pursuance of section 2; and the number of applications that resulted in financial assistance being provided, the number that resulted in assistance in kind being provided and the number that were rejected. That information is the bare minimum that the report should include. The Scottish Government could include additional information if it considered that appropriate.

Given that the bill will be the first real piece of welfare legislation that the Scottish Parliament has created, it is correct that we set procedures for proper review. Parliament should be able to scrutinise how the welfare funds are performing and their effectiveness, and annual reporting would allow that to happen.

Amendment 8 is in line with the principles of the Scottish Parliament, as it promotes openness and transparency. It is a matter of good practice to ensure that the statistics in question are kept on record and reported to the Parliament annually.

Such an amendment has been called for by the SCVO, which stated:

“Given the critical nature of the Fund and the concerns outlined above, both Government and parliamentary review is vital. We support proposed amendments for review submitted by Scottish Labour. At the very least, we seek a strong assurance from Ministers that the Fund will be comprehensively reviewed and can be scrutinised by the Parliament under the provisions of the Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland Act) 2012.”

The amendment was voted down at stage 2, but I hope that the Scottish Government will reconsider its position, especially given its recent announcements on the reporting of national health service statistics.

I move amendment 8.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall

I heard nothing in the minister’s arguments that makes me want to reconsider, so I press amendment 7.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall

In answer to Alex Johnstone’s question, the gist of which was whether a local authority must provide a monetary crisis loan if that is what an individual chooses, I point out that the amendment allows for choice to best suit the needs of the individual in discussion with the local authority. There will be circumstances when the individual’s choice will be overruled by the local authority—for example, if that individual has a history of losing their purse, which is often why a crisis loan is given, or they have a health issue—but the choice would at least be discussed.

There has been wide support for amendment 7 from the third sector. As I said, there is no reason why a crisis grant would cost the local authority any more as a result of the award being made in monetary terms rather than in kind. The proposal would be cost neutral, so there would be no additional cost to the local authority.



Meeting of the Parliament 03 March 2015 : Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab)

Amendment 7 seeks to amend the provision inserted by Kevin Stewart’s amendment that was passed at stage 2 on respect for, and the dignity of, applicants for assistance. It adds that the particular needs and choices of applicants are to be considered by the local authority.

The amendment ensures that local authorities can make awards in cash rather than in kind, so that recipients can have some responsibility over choice and control in their lives. At stage 2, it was argued that introducing choice would put pressure on local authority budgets, but I argue that treating people with dignity and respect is about allowing them to exercise their right of choice. The amendment ensures that a payment can be made either in kind or in money. There is no reason why a crisis grant would cost the local authority any more if the award was in money rather than in kind, so the policy would be cost neutral.

The amendment is supported by the Poverty Alliance, which has stated:

“The refusal to trust applicants with monetary grants increases stigma and can make the applicant feel like they are receiving hand-outs rather than accessing legitimate support from the state social security system. We believe it is important that all decisions are made around what is best for the individual and the applicant’s voice should be heard throughout the decision making process.”

In evidence, the Welfare Reform Committee heard of many incidents in which lack of choice resulted in increased stigma for the individual living in poverty. SCVO argued that the argument against choice focused primarily on administrative convenience. The bill will be the benchmark for any future benefits legislation in the Scottish Parliament, so it should be an exemplar for welfare legislation in Scotland. As such, it needs to show that the needs and choice of the individual are at the centre of the legislation. Being allowed choice and how people are supported must drive the fund and the supporting legislation.

I hope that the Scottish Government sees fit to support the amendment at stage 3, to remove the stigma and to support the applicants’ right to choice. I would argue that cost is not an issue, as this amendment to include choice is cost neutral.

I move amendment 7.



Meeting of the Parliament 26 February 2015 : Thursday, February 26, 2015
Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab)

Does the member agree that people in better-off areas with higher council tax bands benefit more from the council tax freeze than those in the lower tax bands do?



Meeting of the Parliament 24 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Margaret McDougall

I hope that I have highlighted why reinvigorating Prestwick airport is key to not only the Ayrshire economy but to the Scottish economy. It has a huge amount of potential to be an integral part of the infrastructure of Scotland in terms of road, rail, sea and airspace. The reality is that, if we properly support Prestwick, it can take Scotland to the moon.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 2 moved by Ken Macintosh on motion S4M-12485 Margaret Burgess: Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bi
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YesDefeated

Amendment 3 moved by Ken Macintosh on motion S4M-12485 Margaret Burgess: Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bi
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YesDefeated

Amendment 4 moved by Ken Macintosh on motion S4M-12485 Margaret Burgess: Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bi
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YesDefeated

Amendment 5 moved by Ken Macintosh on motion S4M-12485 Margaret Burgess: Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bi
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YesDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Margaret McDougall
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Motion S4M-12040: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11646: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 21/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11248: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10826: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10506: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 27/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09775: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08936: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08429: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 27/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08414: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 26/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08019: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 14/10/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Margaret McDougall
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-24575: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24578: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24577: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24576: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24579: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24574: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/02/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23910: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23909: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03884: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03845: Margaret McDougall, West Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/12/2014 Show Full Question >>