From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Taking The Biscuit and Leaving The Crumbs

“The most substantial examination of the social security system since the Beveridge Report of 40 years ago…”

“…with the view that the present Government are intent on making “savings” in public spending it seems more likely that the proposals will mean CUTS.”

The above words may sound all too familiar with the current debate raging about the Welfare Reform Act 2012 that is due to start taking effect next year.  But of course the new Act is being heralded as the biggest change to the welfare system for over 60 years.  Back in 1985, it was the Fowler Review that was grabbing the headlines.  For an area like Wester Hailes, there were worrying implications in what was being proposed with sweeping changes for those receiving benefits, those in need of additional single payments and those preparing for retirement.

The Sentinel sought to keep people informed.  In 1985 the main proposed changes were highlighted in an effort to help local residents understand how they would be affected.  The feature included a range of personal stories that challenged the myths that life was easier or more luxurious on benefits.  The stark reality was a tale of managing on extremely tight margins with no safety net for unexpected expenditure.  You can read these stories and the Sentinel feature here at Sentinel 1985.

By 1986, the Review had led to a new Social Security Act.  Income Support replaced Supplementary Benefit, single payments and urgent need payments were replaced by the Social Fund, and changes to Housing Benefit meant that everyone would have to pay at least 20% of their rates which would go on to become the notorious poll tax by 1989.  The new system came into effect in April 1988, and the Sentinel summarised the main changes, pointing out for example that the Social Fund for the Lothians was set at £4 million whilst single payments the previous year had totalled £11 million.

The article was followed up in May 1988 as the changes started to bite.  They featured the story of a part time worker whose rent was due to rise after his working hours had been reclassified as full time.  The good neighbourhood scheme FISH reported that they had been inundated with pleas for help after the Social Fund replaced grants for essential household items with a loan system and many people were being refused money for items such as cookers.

By November 1988, the Wester Hailes Youth Programme found itself in the worrying position of having to open a soup kitchen for local young people adversely affected by the 1988 benefit changes.  Under the new rules, young people under the age of 18 not yet in work or on a YTS were no longer eligible for benefit.  In some areas of Scotland there were two young people unemployed for every vacancy available on the YTS.  Margot Clark a youth worker with the Youth Programme said

“We are talking about real poverty.  There are young people in Wester Hailes who are destitute.”

Now Wester Hailes is again facing huge changes to the benefits system after the Welfare Reform Act became law in March of this year.  The first two changes the introduction of the bedroom tax and benefit cap come into effect from April 2013 which is now only 7 months away.  The bedroom tax in particular could have an adverse effect on a significant number of Wester Hailes social housing residents who will face having their housing benefit cut if they are deemed by the new regulations to have a spare bedroom.  Universal Credit which will replace many existing benefits is due to start in October 2013 although its introduction will be staged and aimed at new claimants first.  There is  concern from many quarters over the expected effects of this legislation, for example amongst groups representing people with disabilities.  There is also great concern that many people who will be directly affected are simply not aware or prepared for the changes that are coming.  Unfortunately, there is no longer a Sentinel to bring this news and the implications of the changes through everyone’s letterbox.

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