The aim of the study is to explore the impact of on-going welfare changes on a range of households in Scotland over time. This report provides the findings from the first year of the study by presenting results from the first two sweeps of interviews. Sweep 1 took place from September 2013 to January 2014 and sweep 2 took place from .April 2014 to July 2014
The research is concerned with those in receipt of working age benefits and addresses the impact of the current benefit reforms and new rules including the Benefit Cap; the 'bedroom tax'; changes to lone parents’ obligations; the changeover from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP); and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The research also addresses participants’ views on about the move to Universal Credit.
Forty three individuals took part in sweep 1 of the research and 35 individuals took part in sweep 2, each with different reasons for claiming benefits. Participants were recruited to the study from across Scotland, including rural and urban areas and the major cities, and had a range of demographic and other characteristics.
Key findings from the research include:
• A key rationale of welfare reform has been to encourage people into work including attempts to activate recipients of out of work benefits, including lone parents and those with a health condition or disability. However, participants in both of these groups reported they wanted to work, but faced considerable barriers to doing so.
• The experience of the transition from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance was stressful for some participants, particularly those who subsequently appealed the initial verdict. Sources of stress included: finding the process itself confusing; the waiting time involved; and unpleasant experiences of the medical or tribunal.
• There was limited support on offer to help recipients of out of work benefits move into work. Even those participating in the Work Programme did not report that it was particularly helpful. Some respondents, including those who had moved into work since the first interview, reported receiving more intensive, personalised and targeted assistance from third sector organisations, which they found more useful.
• Welfare reform has also aimed to manage public expenditure, through measures such as the ‘bedroom tax’ , and through limited or no uprating of benefits. Participants reported struggling to make ends meet, particularly in a context of prices of essential items rising faster than benefits. The bedroom tax created temporary hardship for some participants, although for most this impact was mitigated through Discretionary Housing Payments.
• The way in which the UK Government has communicated the rationale for welfare reform had a negative impact on participants, who felt unfairly tarnished by stigmatising messages about benefit claimants not wanting to work.
• Communication of the detail of benefit changes by relevant agencies such as the Department for Work and Pensions was also cited as poor. Official correspondence was described as long, confusing, and sometimes conflicting with previous correspondence. This made it difficult for participants to understand the changes and their potential impact.
• There was some geographical variation in access to affordable basic items, which was particularly poor in rural areas. However, this was also an issue for those in urban areas who were not within walking distance of larger and cheaper shops, due to the high expense of bus fares relative to benefit income